Confession: Recently, I got into it online over homeless camps in my hometown.
Person A: Those camps are an eyesore. When is the city going to do something?
Me (drawing on past conversations on the same topic): The thing is, everyone has to sleep SOMEWHERE. But people say “not on public land, and not on vacant private property either, and don’t you DARE build a shelter for them because that will just encourage more of them to come!” It’s like people think if we’re mean enough to them, they’ll just cease to exist.
Person B (paraphrased): These people are lazy freeloaders and the city should not allow them to panhandle at the highway interchanges.
Me: how do you know they’re lazy? Have you talked to them? I’ve been feeling my conscience twinged for years. I’ve started keeping food in the car so I can give them SOMETHING. It’s good for us to look them in the eye and see the face of God, and have our conscience and our privilege tweaked.
Person B: My conscience is not “tweaked” and I have NO PRIVILEGE OTHER THAN I WORK MY BUTT OFF!”
Me (privately): That person has definitely had their conscience and privilege tweaked, or they wouldn’t be that defensive. God, I put this one in your hands now, because I clearly am powerless here.
Person C (in the style of “mic drop”): “Those who will not work, neither should they eat.” 2 Thessalonians.
Me: You can’t take that out of context. What about Matthew 25? Paul was building on the teachings of Jesus, and Jesus never put any such conditions on taking care of people.
Person B: Those people are lazy. They don’t want work, they just want a handout.
Me: Have you offered them work? I haven’t, and I fully recognize my own failures in that. This is why I keep food in the cars for them.
Person B: Well, if that makes your little bleeding heart feel better, go for it.
Me: (unfollows thread.)
It is horrifying, how un-Christian Christians can be. And then how bewildered we all act that people are calling b.s. and leaving Christianity.
In one town, a Catholic city councilperson fought tooth and nail to prevent an ecumenical group from creating a winter warming shelter. They threw obstacle after obstacle in the way.
In another church filled with people who do, in fact, care about social justice, people resisted hosting a similar shelter because they want to feel safe in their church and they wouldn’t feel safe if there were homeless people hanging around.
I am realizing that these failures within the Christian community to live out the Gospel call are not a function of right or left, although I have often thought of them that way. They are a failure of connecting the dots between what we claim to believe and where the rubber meets the road.
For the record, let’s discuss that passage from 2 Thessalonians. Because it came up, first in the Lectionary, and then in its full context in the Bible in a Year.
In the context, Paul was talking about how he had the right to expect people to support him financially while he was among them, but he chose not to do so because he didn’t want to burden them. And so he said, “You within the Christian community, follow our example.”
In other words, he’s talking to people who, according to Acts, were already living in community, sharing all their worldly wealth so that no one went without.
THAT is the context of this verse. It is NOT meant to be used, weapon-like, as a bludgeon against the poor in an economic system where the gap between rich and poor is sinfully wide.
So if you want to use this verse AFTER you’ve folded the homeless population into community, THEN you have the right. Until then, it is abuse of Scripture.