One of the more interesting aspects of living in an urban area close to the downtown core is that there are a lot of people around from a range of social, economic and cultural backgrounds. Part of this diversity are those who have been marginalized by society. People who are living on the streets, people who may be prostitutes, addicted to various substances or drugs. In short people that are ignored by the rest of society. So how do we react to them when we see them? How do we react when they come through the doors of the church on a Sunday morning?
When it comes to the person on the street who is panhandling, possibly drunk or on drugs, most people walking by pretend that they do not exist. They are invisible. Others will react in more obvious ways such as crossing to the other side of the street, pointedly looking away. Sometimes even making derogatory comments about the person to those they are walking with or even directly to the person. Most people will avoid eye contact and when asked for change many won’t even acknowledge the request. The reaction when someone who appears to be ‘undesirable’ walks through the door of a church can be even worse.
On a Sunday morning what happens when someone who looks less than desirable comes through the door of the church? How are they greeted? Are they welcomed, or do the greeters shunt them away and encourage them to leave? All too often when someone comes through the door looking scruffy, possibly high on drugs or drunk, what happens? In many cases they are asked to leave, they are not welcomed. That doesn’t seem very Christian to me.
So what are we supposed to do instead? The answer is simple, treat these people like human beings – which is exactly what they are – they are human beings just like everyone else. We can make eye contact with the panhandler. We can acknowledge their question, even exchange a few words. Treat them with a little bit of respect. If we can, give them a few coins or buy them a coffee or a bite to eat.
When they come through the door of the church don’t immediately kick them out. Welcome them and talk to them. If it seems like they are looking to find a way to steal a purse or anything else, shadow them while making them feel welcome. We do not have to treat them like pariah. Yes, there are those that go into a church or other public building looking for something to steal. Sometimes to sell it off and buy drugs, but also they could just be trying to get the money to have a meal. We treat stray animals better than we treat these people.
We can do better, we must do better. Think of what it would be like if the situations were reversed.