Religion and Services for the Homeless. An Immoral Combination?

By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO
Joy Junction Inc.

A while ago, I was flabbergasted to hear about the head of a homeless agency who reportedly thought it is “immoral” to mix religion with delivery of services to the homeless. There are others who also believe the same way.

Maybe he or his clients have had bad experiences with those who combine religion with helping the homeless. If that’s the case, it’s sad, because the gospel is supposed to be “good news.”

At Joy Junction, a faith based ministry, we think sharing Jesus kindly and compassionately with our guests is essential. Why do we feel so strongly about that message?

It has been my experience after working with New Mexico’s homeless for over 30 years, that people often fall into drug abuse and an inappropriate use of alcohol in an attempt to escape the emotional pain and despair that characterize their lives.

While regularly working with medical and mental health professionals, Joy Junction offers a relationship with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone on which to build a fully recovered life. We believe that to do otherwise would be “immoral.”

I remember some time back talking to a guy standing by an empty 12 pack of a very strong malt liquor. We were talking about how encouragement from Joy Junction’s Lifeline’s staff, and food from our truck, had motivated him to no longer steal or do drugs.

concrete culvertimagesHowever, his answer when I asked him about the alcohol will haunt me forever. He pointed to a concrete culvert, and said, “See that? It’s where I slept last night. That stuff (pointing to the alcohol) helps me not notice the bugs, the mice or think about my life.”

He said he was working on drinking so much and gratefully said “yes,” when I asked if I could pray with him. While he obviously needed many physical resources, what else other than a relationship with Jesus will help him get through each day?

But what others think about sharing Jesus when helping the homeless with food and shelter? At he time I first shared this piece, we asked some of our Facebook friends. They were quick to respond.

Rita said, “I am a graduate of Joy Junction. It is an establishment that helped me in so many ways. And having a devotional in the mornings (helped) set the path for a new day.”

Angel said, “It is essential and very much needed. Your ministry is wonderful for the homeless and the people that are not homeless. If only more people followed your example.”

Charles said that Jesus gives hope to those who feel they have none.

He added, “Keep up the good work, Joy Junction, and when someone tells you to not mix religious beliefs with helping someone or tells you to turn your shirt inside out, ( remember Romans 6:1. ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God through salvation for anyone who chooses to accept it.’”

Andrea commented, “I’m Jewish so the way I see it, your savior was a Jew so it’s all fine. Besides if someone doesn’t want to hear the preaching they will tell you. I give to various food banks and to Joy Junction. The bottom line is tzedakah (charity). Give to those less fortunate than yourself.”

I liked what Joel said. “I’m not a big fan of anyone pushing any religion; however, you do it with taste and class. You do not try to ram it down anyone’s throat like other groups. I may not believe in the same god that you do, but when someone tells me ‘God bless,’ I don’t get insulted by it, I say ‘thank you,’ and then go about my day.”

Paula also had encouraging words. She wrote that while she believes in “live and let live,” as long as no one is being hurt, “I firmly believe in God, and that’s what makes me the strong, compassionate and giving person I am.”

She added, “I appreciate your organization and am glad to see you all doing what you do . If you want to praise our Lord, I stand behind you 110 percent.”

Destiny said she was okay with it, as long as food or services are not denied to those who “reject” religion or our “outlook” on it.

She continued, “But if you’re withholding food or clothing on the basis they have to partake in any religion/religious activity then I can see it as a problem. Helping those in need should be just that, without pushing your agenda on them. Love the work Joy Junction does though, and I donate to them all the time.”

I appreciate everyone who responded. My question to the agency head whose comment motivated me to write this piece, and anyone else who doesn’t believe in sharing the gospel when assisting the homeless, would be, “What other form of real encouragement is there for a homeless and hungry person after basic human needs have been taken care of it?”