In the homeless shelter where I’ve been for over a month, church is an integral component of how the place runs on a daily basis. A nonprofit organization affiliated with a local church assigns beds, monitors housing and welfare resources for the homeless guests, and maintains the physical facility.
Our meals are outsourced. Breakfast and lunch are provided from the nearby jail. Dinner is donated by the network of churches across our county. It is amazing how the nonprofit organization reaches a variety of denominations to prepare, deliver and serve the dinner to over 100 individuals per night. Some churches volunteer more often than others, on a regular basis.
Regardless of how the dinner turns out to be, it is definitely the ritual that the homeless, both from the shelter and the outside, look forward to each day. I’ve noticed that church volunteers actually enjoy the experience more than we do. The pride is quite apparent in each believer for acting on what he or she has been indoctrinated, which most church-goers don’t necessarily follow through in reality.
As a Christian and an ethnic minority, I couldn’t help myself paying attention to which denomination did indeed serve the homeless better than others. Judging by the name of the church introduced each evening, it is the Catholic Church that reigns in this criterion, especially of White-American congregations.
While I admired the power of Catholic Church to compel its followers with such a discipline to this day, I also wondered what made this branch of Christianity remain so loyal to this onerous task.
After pondering over weeks, I’ve realized that Catholic Church is the originator of helping the poor and needy. Feeding the homeless stems from this concept. If this principle were to thrive among the believers, the inventor of this idea had to be most vigilant with the practice.
Does that make Catholic Church better practitioners of Christianity?
The evidence is quite the contrary. And, helping the poor and needy is the Catholic Church’s tradition, not of the Bible. If you are in doubt, you should explore the scripture yourself.
In John 21:15-17 of the New Testament, Peter was commanded by Jesus to feed the latter’s sheep. Biblical scholars interpret such as feeding the Word of God. Shouldn’t that start with solving the physical hunger first?
To answer that question, we need to explore the goal of feeding the Word of God. What Christ ultimately offered was belonging to God, to those who were alienated by the cultural or societal standards. He didn’t embrace the poor and needy only. He did all kinds of people regardless of their background, thereby striving for spiritual equality.
If one were to be secure by belonging to God, sustenance alone won’t accomplish that task. So many times, the homeless arrive at the shelter with their broken spirits, which disable their sense of self-worth. If so, recovering such to the extent where a homeless person can function on his or her own mandates quite a process.
Under this premise, satisfying the physical hunger is the bare minimum that the believers end up offering to the homeless. And, this service is the compensation for having neglected the former’s surroundings all along. Parishioners might satisfy their pastors or church elders with this particular kind of volunteerism. However, it has no relevance to God whatsoever. He responds to each of our best efforts serving his goal, based on his standard only. Anything less than that faces nothing but the divine indifference.
Then, the question is why the Catholic Church, which has the longest history of Christianity, practices it in the erroneous manner to this day.
The answer lies with how the Catholic Church has managed itself for its relevance and livelihood since the ancient period. The Church always co-opted with the rulers of various dynasties, which joined the rank of the entrenched as well. When the Church looked out for its self-interests in this manner, the institution could only give little to the underprivileged. In short, the Catholic Church has always been pragmatic with its own survival, which is furthest from laying down one’s life for fellow human-beings (John 15:13).
The conceptual betrayal has to do with ignoring the unique element of Christianity. Compared to other religions that offer the dogma only, Christianity accompanies miracles as well. They reserve the room for God to aid those who observe all the divine rules but may fall short of achieving the ultimate result by his standard. And, a miracle is entirely God’s judgment call, which may happen only in extraordinary circumstances.
However, Christian authorities believe what has happened in the Bible only. Therefore, they are handicapped in their own practice of Christianity by dismissing this unexpected factor from God. Instead, they have always been the foremost group to bend God’s rules for the sake of maintaining the physical church. Unfortunately, this choice is wrong on multiple accounts from the divine perspective.
This kind of inconsistency doesn’t rest with the Catholic Church alone. All the Protestant denominations might have liberated themselves from Catholicism and thereafter in the doctrinal and ritualistic areas. However, all of these churches inherited the exactly same method of maintaining their institutions from the Catholic Church. Therefore, all religious entities, regardless of Catholic or Protestant, don’t question the idea of giving the bare minimum to the poor and needy, while choosing to be silent with how the powers-that-be conduct themselves, regardless of the periods. Most of all, churches aren’t aware of their own hypocrisies.
That is how all the denominations of Christianity can respond to the call of feeding the homeless without any question, even to this day. Meanwhile, all of them have gone through the identical pattern of rise and fall of influence among the general public. Yet, none of the denominations is aware of the fact that this narrow-minded practice won’t cure the perennial illness of Christianity.
This religious tradition has filtered into the secular society as well for centuries. Societal delinquents are often disillusioned with what our government offers them, after having been neglected by the rest of American society. Our government is programmed to offer the bare minimum resources for survival, granted for a limited duration for each of the needy individual. And, no one has ever questioned this practice, although our government is saddled with aggravated or chronic issues out of this constituent. This phenomenon demands more resources year after year, especially in the economic downturn.
What is the remedy for Christianity, especially in American society?
The purpose of church may have been belonging even at the expense of defying the Biblical principles. The goal of Christianity is instilling the moral backbone in each individual, to maximize human dignity. Only then, he or she is equipped with the discretion of which community or societal structure he or she should belong to. One can help his or her church to abide by the divine principles in its management. Without that discriminating discipline under the belt, no person, who claims to be a Christian, can benefit others at all.
For example, in spite of the aftermath suffered together out of the financial crisis in 2008, there hasn’t been a collective will among the American public to investigate why such happened and what prevented the U.S. government from repairing our system. Regardless of the faith in God, Americans have worried about their own belongings at any cost.
If American society had Christian authorities, they would have recognized that it was paying the irreparable price for having served two masters (Matthew 6:24). In the political term, we uphold the divine principles through democracy. In the economic sense, we worship money above all else by allowing each individual to maximize one’s profits at any cost. These two are incompatible. And, such should have been communicated to the general public. However, no Christian among the religious establishment dared to do so.
Can American Christians get away with such cowardice? Absolutely not.
As believers, they have had it too easy all along. Most other nations have long-held dynastic heritages, which make it difficult for Christianity to gain a foothold without any compromise. The United States was a clean slate that could be founded upon divine principles from its inception, which most Americans take it for granted.
The idea of equality doesn’t hold without the Biblical basis that all of us are born in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), which is one of the fundamental precepts out of the Age of Enlightenment. It was the cultural revolution among European intellectuals who left the corrupt church to maximize the divine principles in complete purity. Our founding fathers were products of this era, and adopted such ideas into the societal structure of the United States from its beginning.
There was one flaw in the U.S. Constitution, as our founding fathers sought self-interests through the erroneous economic principle. This issue affected the minorities only for quite a while. In the recent decades, the conceptual conflict began to denigrate the majority of Americans, as the country generated a greater segment of educated elites pushing our system to its limit based on what was allowed by the U.S. Constitution. We’ve reached the point where we can’t ignore this inconsistency any longer.
American Christians have the foremost duty to recognize that our system, as it is, forces us compromise our dignity at all times. And, they need to command the efforts to bring our system to a functional democracy without any contradiction.
That endeavor is something no secular force has ever attempted. This pursuit is a long-overdue for American Christians to initiate. Given how monumental this task is, it requires all denominations of Christianity to cooperate under the goal of completing a living heaven. And, this lofty goal is something that non-believers can respond, and thereby unite the nation.
Why now for American public? From the divine perspective, it must be the perfect timing.
All branches of Christianity must have been humbled by each of their progress, or lack thereof, in American society and the rest of the world. Yet, they must wonder what to be done for the future, individually and collectively. In terms of human resources, we must have sufficient size of Americans, both believers and non-believers, with the knowledge base and technological skills, who can digest challenging and complicated tasks of an enormous scale. Finally, as our system has taken a worse turn based on the collective ignorance of the marginalized, well-meaning Americans can no longer be passive.
For this generation of Americans, it is a divine blessing to be given an awesome task to be accomplished. If we assume and indeed give our best efforts for this purpose, we may be able to please God for once. He may even pepper us with his miracles to succeed. That will be a great piece of American history to share with future generations.
The only question is whether they will respond to that divine calling.