Monday, April 04, 2011

Haters, do me a favor... stay out of our hood.

This may be angrier than my typical blog post, but I really feel the need to get this off my chest.

There are suburban Christians who come into the DTES regularly to hand out tracts and to preach.  I don't think this, in and of itself, is wrong.  I am especially sympathetic with the ones who take the time to get to know the people to whom they preach.  I remember talking to one woman in my neighbourhood whose journey to faith and freedom from addiction began thanks to a woman from Abbotsford who stopped by her tent in Oppenheimer Park every Friday night to give her a sandwich and a tract, and to talk to her.

But there are some "preachers" who are really starting to get on my nerves.  My sources tell me you can find them at some of the Christian missions that make people to sit through a sermon before they serve them food.

I know these preachers second-hand.  I hear their words come through the mouths of some DTES Christians I know.*  It happens when the topic of gay people comes up.  Or Catholics.  (Two groups that are both represented in our community at Jacob's Well.)  When these topics are broached (or sometimes, just out of the blue), these otherwise loving and accepting Christians start parroting the words and attitudes of these preachers.  Attitudes of hate, prejudice, and exclusion, along the lines of: "God is angry at Vancouver and will judge us because of all the gay people,"  or, "The pope is the Antichrist."

I have no idea why you would come into a neighbourhood like the DTES and preach hatred and fear.  Especially toward two groups who are so well represented in the DTES (for example, one study I read said that 40% of homeless youth in Canada identify their sexual orientation as the primary cause of their homelessness).  Especially since they're also two groups who are quite involved in serving the DTES (I am thinking of the many lesbian feminists and Catholic sisters I know who work around here).  And especially in the presence of marginalized people who have experienced their fair share of hatred and fear already in their own lives.

I see this preaching as spiritual abuse - abuse of people who are vulnerable for a variety of reasons, who easily accept your spiritual authority, who are less likely to question the things you say, and more likely to swallow it whole.

If you want to preach to my friends, read Jesus' sermons to people on the margins.  They mostly contained words like "blessed are you."  Or, "what do you want me to do for you?"  Or, "go in peace."

Preach love.  Preach welcome.  Preach acceptance.  Preach hope.  Preach grace.  Preach resurrection.

And if you feel the need to preach hate, please, do us all a favour and stick to the suburbs.

Rant over.

On the topic of Christians, the church, and gay people, I highly suggest that everyone read a series of blog posts by my friend Wendy Gritter.  She has a way of approaching the issue (especially on a denominational level) that I had never before considered - as a "disputable matter," a category used by Paul for a different issue in Romans 14.  Believe me, you really need to check this out.  Here's the link to the first in the series

*Believe it or not, there are a fair number of Christians in my neighborhood.  Many people don't realize this, and they come preaching under the assumption that everyone in the neighborhood is heading to hell and is in dire need of some fire insurance.  In reality, a lot of DTES residents know God, know Him in a deep and tried-and-true way.  A lot of them have wrestled through a lot more crap in their lives than I have, and the fact that they cling to God in the midst of it all often amazes me.


Sarah-Jane Melnychuk said...

Beth, Thank you so much for the warning at the start of your blog post.. :)

While it may be true that many you talk to on the streets may identify their sexual orientation to be among LGBTQ folk, it has to be said that some of the most successful people in society today happen to be folks within the LGBTQ identified folk. There still remains some marginalization especially for folks who might identify themselves as Transsexual or Transgender.

It's been my observation across the board from DTES and into Downtown and the West End in my conversations among the homeless that there is perhaps a larger population of Aboriginal People. Poverty and marginalization seems to be affecting Aboriginal communities far greater then any other People Group. They usually tend to be under educated. It's been my observation that some of the most educated and most well adjusted people are folks within the LGBTQ Community.

There is conflict when really the church begins to respond from the place of being equipped and quite ignorant of the issues at hand.

It hasn't been my observation that a person has not been hired because of their sexual orientation. With all our diversity training within the work place, LGBTQ People are protected in the job market... there are multiple factors that lead somebody to being homeless and for some being gay and lesbian might actually be a factor but not the only factor. Either way, it's sad and I share your sentiment with suburban Christians who parachute in without developing a relationship to even see the heart of the individual and welcoming the individual into community regardless if they share the same biblical convictions or not. There's a reason I stopped parachuting in and joined Jacob's Well when I did :)

Often times a people living in poverty won't care what you have to say until you actually completely understand the unique challenges that are faced... and unless somebody actually wants to deal with the root of the issue there's no point sharing the same gospel that is told to the same people over and over again while the problem of poverty continues. It's actually time the church stop speaking of Jesus and actually bring God's Kingdom into places of poverty and marginalization.

Beth said...

Hey Sarah,

Thanks for your comment.

My comment about LGBTQ youth on the streets wasn't meant to suggest that most LGBTQ people are so marginalized that they are forced out into the streets. I agree with you that there are plenty of "successful," wealthy, decidedly un-marginalized LGBTQ people, especially ones who have found support in culture and in their network of friends and family.

Even among those who haven't found that support, many still find the strength to live at home and carry on. Not everyone who is abused or who isn’t accepted for their sexuality becomes homeless, but those who feel rejection (or worse) from their families and lack relational support systems, safe places to go, and other resources - these youth sometimes find the street the safest place, the only place they’re accepted. Often drug and alcohol use becomes part of their coping mechanism for life on the streets. This then becomes a destructive, addictive force in their lives, leading to further pain.

And yes, Aboriginal people make up about 30% of the DTES, which is quite high. But among street youth in Canada in particular, studies show that rejection from families seems to be a higher factor than race.

Lloyd Peacock said...

Thank you for your fine Blog Beth. In the early 90s my husband Bob and I had a ministry called: "Spirit Trails Ministry." We spent quite a bit of time in the DTES, one of the things that bothered us most was that hungry people were forced to listen to a preacher for 30 minutes or more before they could eat. We were always offended that these hungry folks had to go through this waiting game to get a little nourishment. Surely this is not what Jesus has called us to be?

Lloyd and Bob Peacock

Sarah-Jane Melnychuk said...

Hey Beth I'm back. It's always good to have or to present the fuller picture. I think, while not to minimize the challenges that some LGBTQ people have it's important to be able to communicate that there are multiple factors that lead to somebody being on the streets. The LGBTQ street kids I run into have run away from an abusive home environment and a system that has failed them.

Those who hate need to be welcomed into community to see and experience love which they are foreign to. It's easy to love those we advocate for but we're exhorted to love and forgive those who hate us and those we advocate for...this is most difficult thing to do, to love your enemy and to show grace to those who are in opposition towards you. That said, I completely understand and would agree with some of your main points.

Beth said...

Sarah, well said. And for these LGBTQ youth who have run away, imagine what it feels like to hear even further abuse through the mouths of those who are supposed to be bringing the message of Christ to his most vulnerable children.

In terms of loving enemies, yes, I agree - this is the kind of thing I alluded to at the end of a previous post about a man who witnessed to me in the DTES - I need to be open to loving and forgiving the people I criticize, and pointing fingers back at myself, too.

I agree that those who hate need to be welcomed into community. But when those who hate show themselves unwilling to listen or to love, even in the DTES, where I think God's Spirit of love dwells in a tangible way, I believe it is our place as followers of Christ to first protect and stand with the marginalized and vulnerable. Christ modeled this by choosing harsh words for the religious insiders, and gentle, encouraging, (yet always still challenging) words for the excluded. His choice of harsh words for the religious insiders did not mean he didn't love them, or that he didn't want them to be part of his family. But he did say that from those to whom much is given, much is required, and that teachers in particular carry a great responsibility. I say this with some fear and trembling, because I know that Jesus may have some harsh words reserved for me. I am thankful for His mercy.

Sarah-Jane Melnychuk said...

In many ways I agree with you and in many ways because I've been on both sides I can say that I can see the needs that people have on both sides and they're not much different from those we typicaly view as vulnerable and marginalized. Even Joyce mentioned that the rich can be just as marginalized though less vulnerable then the one who lacks resources, home, and the basic needs of food and water.

Just because somebody is out there street evangelizing that doesn't mean they're leaders in the church and it doesn't mean that they don't have their own brokenness to contend for either and not all street evangelism is bad either even though there are plenty of folks out there who do a bad job and in part I don't necessarily see them as bad people going out of their way to be abusive. In many ways, having been there done that's what we're taught. We're taught to go out there and like it or not Christianity is both missional and evangelical the sad thing is we lack the unity and teaching as well as the pastoral care. I believe the 5 fold ministry needs to operate with greater unity, we've got a long way to go.

We're taught that we have the upper hand and that we have a message that people have to hear but many are not grounded enough in their own discipleship to really be fruitful. That said, in my experience evangelizin I've had many positive experiences. Like anything if we're gifted then we can usualy discern whether or not somebody is open to hearing the 4 spiritual laws which is so over used in cheesy and even disrespectful ways.

My point...

We're taught that we can't be broken or struggle. We're taught that we have to be strong and stable and get too focused on the individual and many feeling the need to correct the behavior of people and evangelizin the individual but really we're called to disciple Nations not just the individual person.

The second point...

I don't think we can apply the same high standards on the people who hand out tracks and who share their faith, many are hurting and confused themselves.

Third and final point...

Hurt people hurt people. So while I totaly agree with you we still need to see that hurt people will hurt people and those who hate don't know God because God is love. We can hold the church responsible... those who know better aught to live better. When we water down the truth in church we fail to disciple people to know better.