I am concerned that it may play into the pageantry for which the black church is so well known while the pressing issues of human rights and homelessness go unnoticed. I grew up in those traditions and was molded by principles that had little to do with addressing those less fortunate. Then as now, the church was often used as a means to separate the haves from the have-nots. The poor were those who were to be gazed on and pitied. Class was significant, thereby excluding certain segments of the community.
Unfortunately, the black church still has an abysmal record for helping the homeless. They remain silent bystanders at a time when the crisis in the homeless community has grown to outrageous proportions. They are still as a body uninformed and distant from the group of people called homeless. They have shirked their responsibilities to be a respite for those who are heavy laden and have failed dismally to give them rest. Their civil rights activities halt abruptly in the face of human rights and most remain embarrassed and stupefied when the homeless are in their midst.
Like most churches, despite its recent decades of suffering, those of the black community remain complacent on the issues of homelessness to the extent that they have little effect in society as the problems facing the homeless grow and fester.
From the small storefront church to the large mega ministries, the homeless have learned that far from being a place of solace, churches are often a place where people are further victimized and degraded by the utter lack of social awareness of many churches.
So while I wiped my eyes along with the rest of the country, and was moved by the President’s moving rendition of Amazing Grace, I am also deeply saddened that I, along with many of my other homeless brothers and sisters are counted among those who are ignored and forgotten.
Although Obama has made tremendous strides in his Presidency that will benefit the underprivileged class, embedded in its traditions the churches remain indifferent and unwilling to change attitudes towards the poor. Those in need, and particularly the homeless feel alienated from the church and have come to realize that it often only teaches values of material acquisition, not spiritual.
For that small space in time when we were all entranced by the voice of our President, I envisioned the church as it should be. A place where those without homes find a place to lay their head in the evening protected from the brutal elements. A place where people are valued for who they are.
But we all know that when the pageantry ends, and the emotions have died down, policies and attitudes regarding the homeless will remain. Obamas voice will continue to resonate in my ears and it is my prayer that the churches of the country will take time to recognize that we are all included in God’s grace and that no groups’ needs should be ignored. That in the face of everything, our lives matter, too.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound; please save a homeless wretch like me. Even me, Lord, we cry --- even me.