To Shelter or Not to Shelter?

Imposing Biblical morality on non Christians.

churchstatevia-equip-dot-orgdownload1Just imagine! You’ve lived with your significant other for years and you have children together. Neither faith nor marriage has played a big (even small) part in your life. You’re making it-but barely-until job cutbacks and an eventual layoff result in you being evicted from your apartment.

It’s a crisis. You’re referred to a local rescue mission, which tells you that you’re not allowed to sleep with your common law wife because you’re not married.

Or you are married, but like many couples you don’t have a copy of your marriage license. The same scenario occurs as the one I’ve just described and you end up at your local mission. You’re not allowed to sleep with your wife due to the absence of a marriage license. Seriously, how many of us carry it around in our wallets or within easy access?

Both scenarios just add insult to injury. Sadly, they’re all too common. But let’s focus on the common law husband and wife scenario.

After hearing a peripheral discussion of this issue at a Christian conference I attended, I wondered what was more Christlike and loving.

Is it to deny combined family shelter to a non Christian common law married couple, or offer them shelter together- understanding it’s problematic (and some would say) non loving to legislate Biblical morality on non believers?

For a quick snapshot and an unscientific look at this, I posed the question on both Joy Junction’s and my Facebook pages. It didn’t take long for the issue to take off.

Some people were strongly in favor of shelter without judgment, with Tosie saying that “Love and helping without judgment is Christlike.”

Sean wrote, “I can say with unwavering conviction that Christ would have met their physical needs by providing them with shelter.”

Sean said that most people in this difficult situation are going to expect to be denied help by a Christian organization.

He added, “Frankly they’ve probably been turned down before. But when they find one that doesn’t turn them down and welcomes them – they encounter the living breathing love of Christ. And that changes people.”

David agreed, saying “Remember, Jesus healed a group of blind men. One said ‘Thank You.’ Jesus didn’t revoke healing from those who didn’t thank Him. Bless and don’t curse. Teach and preach Christ crucified in love; don’t deny food and shelter. Love hopes all things and bears all things. If an unbelieving common law couple needs help, it is not appropriate to issue church discipline.”

However, Garry had a different perspective, writing that “Those who seek help should accept it on the terms of the provider. It is that way everywhere.”

That was too much for me to pass up, so I asked him whether those terms were “correct and charitable.”

Garry responded, “It depends. If the help is offered to all under the same terms then yes. Why should additional burden be placed on the provider?”

Travis jumped in, saying he didn’t find it “Biblically” charitable “to deny God’s Word and allow sin to go unchecked.”

He said he does understand the need for sheltering the homeless. “My heart breaks for them too.”

However, Travis added, “As believers we must seek to honor the Lord and His Word above all else.”

He continued, “Does the Word tell us to call people to repent of their sin? Or does it tell us to act as if there is no sin at all?”

But which is the greater “sin?’ To allow an unmarried couple to sleep together or fail to give them shelter because of that fact? Which action is honoring God most-or least?

After all, the Bible says not to lie-but it also says not to kill people. Noted Dutch resistance hero Corrie ten Boom lied to the Nazis when she was asked if she was hiding Jews. As a result, Jews were saved. Should she have told the truth? To do so would have resulted in lives being lost. It is not always so easy to immediately ascertain what God’s word requires in situations like this.

Magpie said she believes in minimizing suffering.

She added, “I also read the Bible front to back, was baptized in a Christian Church and have a personal relationship with God and Jesus as everyone does. I do not remember Jesus punishing any of the sinners. Actually, I recall Jesus loved them all and tried to share the enlightenment (just as Buddha did) with them. People who are on the street need shelter.”

Magpie said if a shelter insists that people attend church or follow certain rules while at the shelter, they are free to do that, as it is their shelter.

However, she continued, “Wouldn’t it be a more compelling recruitment strategy to simply help them as Christians without any investment in whether they become Christians or not, or even if they even believe in God? The point is that the shelter is helping people in need — that in itself is God’s work.”

She added, “Do you think Mother Teresa insisted that the sick in her care believe what she believed? No. She simply tried to alleviate their suffering. Period. In that she was following God’s plan for her, doing God’s work.”

Magpie said that’s summed up in what Jesus said, to love others as we love ourselves.

R.C. Sproul Jr. responded, “Indeed He did. But are we always loving our neighbor when we keep them comfortable in their sin? Would you, Magpie, buy a drunk a bottle out of love?”

Now there’s a question, R.C. Is alcoholism a “sin” or an “addiction?” I’d have to say that after serving New Mexico’s homeless for more than 30 years, I believe that alcoholism is an addiction.

Inappropriate use of alcohol often begins in an attempt to mask the often unbearable realities of day to day living. It then quickly escalates into an addiction. How many of us have experienced some of the agonies encountered by troubled souls prior to plunging into the ultimately unsatisfying bottle of booze?

Cynthia said, “Love is what God through Jesus is teaching. Love the sinner, not the sin. Give them shelter and show them love and change hearts one at a time.”

Erika said that our commission as Christians is to love. She added, “We know there is only one judge and that isn’t us. When Jesus walked the earth He helped all, including the ones living a life that was frowned upon back then and even now. I have no doubt that our Lord wouldn’t deny shelter, food or water to anyone. My hope is our acts of love leave a profound impression upon those we serve.

Christopher seemed to sum things up, saying “Shelter them. God will deal with the details.”

To that I add a hearty “amen.”

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