Let's talk about something that people are uncomfortable talking about. This nature of this snippet in the Enquirer bothers me. The title of the article is "Panhandler Arrested In Church" which is sure to capture attention. Apparently this guy had done this a few times before, disrupting the service so he could hit-up parishioners. Since you can't forcibly remove someone without crossing some legal lines, the police was the last resort. Already there are people willing to jump on this church as being heartless and I'm sure there are more to come. It seems counterintuitive that a church would be so heartless as to call the authorities because a homeless guy wanted some money but some people have no idea what it's like being a church in the city.
Think about a similar situation: where else could an individual disrupt a gathering on multiple occasions and face no consequences? Most likely, if he had done so during a meeting at a government building or a place of business, the person interrupting would be arrested on the spot. But when it comes to the church, we're supposed to suspend a worship gathering to pacify this request. Why? Because churches are supposed to "be like Jesus" and care for the poor. And when they're biligerant we should turn the other cheek and let the disruptive person have their way in our gatherings.
That sounds about right. And maybe they can dance naked in the aisles too. As we approach the completion of our second year of ministry in Walnut Hills I've can attest that virtually everyone that wants a handout feels it's the most important thing happening in the world at the time; many times they're insistent that their need should be resolved immediately, regardless of what you're doing. We've had people on multiple occasions try to interrupt our service, wanting to speak with me in the middle of preaching, so they could make their plea. We ask them to sit through our worship and we'll get to them when we're done. Granted, some are patient enough to wait but others get pissed because they want what they want now. So if someone in need will not respect this one stipulation we have, why do we have to succumb to them? Oh, because we're a church, and that's what Jesus would do.
I would argue that the primary purpose of a church is to worship the living God. One of the main expressions of this is our worship gathering. While we can also do this by ministering to the poor, that is not our only directive*. In fact, despite the theological positions of some, Scripture does not list the eradication of poverty as the primary purpose of the body of Christ. While we continually do our part to serve our community we still hold that we're to teach the embodiement of Jesus as the true release that people need. We have our priorities and those requesting assistance can at least respect them.
People outside the church are constantly wanting to expose the apparent hypocricies within it. And since there are always the needy among us this is an easy target. But those on the outside have no idea how volitile these situations are.
We had this guy who was constantly looking for handouts come to our church. We did our best to help him out but sometimes said no because we knew he was an addict. A two separate occasions we caught him attempting to steal from the church we rent yet didn't call the police. One night he was particularly insistent when we told him he wouldn't get any money and he decided to steal money from the offering box. Again, we didn't call the police and tried to "restore him Biblically" but we really didn't see him much more. Apparently he got caught stealing [for the umteenth time] and is still in the county lock-up.
In the long run, did we help him out or not? Tough call but it's not ours to make. We'll use our best judgement to help when and where we can but there's no hard/fast rule. But we will not allow someone to manipulate us into making themselves priority number one. We will always reserve the right to say no. And if you've never said no, then you really have no room to criticize.
This is a part of life living in the city. We do our best but understand that an unlimited supply of handouts still would not solve the problems that people face and/or create.
Until you're ministering in the city and experience the week-to-week struggle, you should probably reserve judgement on the matter.
*There are plenty of social service agencies whose main purpose is assist the poor; there are hundreds in Walnut Hills alone. Despite this fact, there is still a problem with people in need. One of the driving reasons in our community is that there are people manipulating the system. They can get government assistance on which to make it by and anything they can panhandle can go to purchase of non-government subsidized purchases [i.e., alcohol]. We do not use this as an excuse not to help, but it's a situation that needs to be recognized. At Echo we try to be deliberate between situations because constantly giving hand-outs to people who are disingenuous is actually more harmful than helpful.