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Category: Testimonies
Topic: Interpreting Motives

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The book has this compelling story about Mike and Sam sleeping on the steps of a church on a Sunday morning, waking up mid-service to find that all the church members entered through the back door, that no one approached them, invited them in.

This was offered as evidence of an uncaring church. But what if the reason the people went in the back door was that they were trying to be considerate, not wanting to disrupt the two sleeping men?

This seems to me to be as plausible an explanation for their motive as the one inferred by this story's inclusion in the book. One might respond by suggesting that the people in the church should have cared more about their spiritual welfare and awakened them. Fair enough. But that's an entirely different argument. It's one thing to say that they did care about these men, but should have made a better choice about how they expressed that care. It's quite another to conclude that they did not care and include it as evidence of selfish church.

The church does need to help the homeless more. Maligning the motives of people when we don't know what those motives are seems to be a poor way to make the case.

One of the things I try to make a priority in my Christian walk is to be careful when interpreting or judging a person's motives. It's too easy to be wrong, and a person's character is so valuable I don't want to handle it carelessly.


Posted: 2006-05-31 13:21:00

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you make a good point as far as not to assume motives, but I think in the case of the church congregation using the back door, it's pretty clear that no one wanted to deal with two homeless people. I would like to think that at least one person would at least try to awaken Sam and Mike to see if they were OK or needed anything. I think everyone was taking the easy route.

Posted: 2006-06-09 12:29:00

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My point was that it was not at all pretty clear what motivated these people. You have absolutely no way of knowing whether their motivation was good or bad.

It just makes you wonder how many others in the ill treatment anecdotes they offer up as evidence are also misjudgments on their part. It creates a credibility problem.

Perhaps some of the church people who treated them poorly correctly assessed that they were not homeless men with a real need. Perhaps some of them saw them as able-bodied men and so treated them with a biblical “if you don't work you don't eat” response. That would be the where the church may fall short; if we don't know whether a person's need is genuine, we should err on the side of mercy.

Jesus calls us to help the poor. If the authors helped draw attention to that need, then their work was not in vain. But Jesus didn't call us to help middle-class, college-educated, able-bodied believers pretending to be poor and making value judgments on the motives of those who didn't help them.

The difference is huge.

Posted: 2006-06-13 14:49:00

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You have a point, in that the two may not have read the situation correctly (I briefly thought of this while reading the book.) However, the church-goers would have no way of knowing they were middle-class folk, except by a gift of the Holy Spirit (i.e.: revelation from a WORD OF KNOWLEDGE or DISCERNING OF SPIRITS).

Remember, they were NOT dressed like middle-class; they did not LOOK LIKE middle-class, did not SMELL LIKE middle-class, did not ACT LIKE middle-class.

Therefore, this part of your argument would be invalid. It is conceivable, however, that they WERE being considerate to the two sleeping on the doorstep, and the two just left too soon for the congregation to bless them further!

The author makes a valid point concerning how hunger, fatigue, constant rejection, etc. affects our better judgment. In the book, he was adamant about recounting how they were thinking at the time. At another time, they go back to a church where they were previously rejected to find a repentant church leader asking for their forgiveness, and inviting them to a meal.

You also err in quoting the scripture about “if you don't work you don't eat”. This doctrine is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:10. This passage, in a literal (word-for-word) translation reads: "If a man WILL NOT work NEITHER SHOULD he eat" (emphasis mine). Using proper interpretation and application of this passage, one correctly concludes that it is an act of the WILL (someone who REFUSES to work), and NOT simply because someone fell on hard times and needs a hand-up.

I have seen the misapplication of this and many other scriptures by well-meaning, and not so well-meaning people who profess to follow Christ. "The letter (of the law) kills, but the Spirit (of grace) gives life."

By the way, I received my nick-name "Rev" while a resident at a local homeless shelter. I, too, had fallen on hard times after having lost a job because of a disability.

How did I earn this nick-name? I was caught reading the Bible every morning and talking to other homeless residents about the reason for the hope that was in me. And at their Bible studies, I defended the faith that was in me, though my walk wasn't always perfect.


Posted: 2007-01-01 20:07:00

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