Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bearing False Witness

If you have been reading my blog for a long time, you remember that I wrote about the homeless several times, beginning with this post about the town of Elkton bulldozing a makeshift camp of homeless people's belongings. (And if you have been reading my blog for a long time, I am impressed, because lately it has been lousy! I am trying to make amends. Many thanks for your patience!)

A quick update on how things have developed since that fateful day. The churches have pulled together to create a Rotating Homeless Shelter, which is heading into its second year. The town has been sued for its treatment of these folks. They have also had struck down an attempted ordinance to ban "loitering" aka homeless people walking down the street. Clearly, the Holy Spirit is working. Finally, the Meeting Ground, which has been spearheading all of this, has purchased a commercially zoned home that is perfect for a day center in Elkton. It is the Mary Randall Center.

I read an article yesterday that gave me pause. It was about the growing opposition to the Mary Randall Center. I am not linking the article here because I don't want to single out anyone. Instead, I want to reflect upon one of the ten commandments and its general disregard (as I see it).

The article opened by quoting someone who is opposed to this center opening in his/her neighborhood. The opposition was framed by using the context of saying that s/he has volunteered at another local shelter, but they just don't want it HERE. The implication, of course, is "I have been in relationship with homeless folks, so I know what I am talking about, and I can say this with authority."

I was reminded of another time I heard someone oppose having a shelter near them, and the person used as justification their volunteer work experience in the past to claim authority to speak and opine.

This does not sit well with me. It just feels wrong, but I couldn't quite clarify my thinking as to why. I was venting to a clergy friend, and he put it in words that rang true. He said simply "it's bearing false witness."

It is breaking the 9th commandment.

I know it is false witness, because I too have spent time with folks who need the Mary Randall Center, who need the services it will provide. I have shared meals with them, spent nights in a church building with them, celebrated as some of them have gotten their lives more together, and grieved over one of their untimely deaths. And I am not an authority on this subject by any stretch of the imagination. There are many, many more faithful servants around our county who are in much deeper relationship with the folks who will be helped by the Mary Randall Center.

I don't know a single person who has spent any real time with these folks who isn't touched and changed by the experience. I find that every person has a story, a life, is cherished by God, and every person is deserving of a chance to make things better. And there is no perfect place to do such ministry because there is no place where fear of the unknown and of the outcast does not have a foothold.

I have preached repeatedly that I think the fourth commandment, to keep the Sabbath, is the most often disregarded of the 10 commandments. The 9th Commandment-"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16)- would seem a close second.

I am planning to be at the zoning hearing on Thursday October 18 at 7 p.m. at 100 Railroad Avenue in Elkton. I invite you to come and bear faithful witness, and stand in solidarity with God's most precious ones.

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