There are times which we are faced to make a decision between right and wrong. Often during those times, even though the choice is so stark, we place our own interests in the middle of that decision, and as a result, cloud our ability to make that decision. I know I have been guilty of this many, many times throughout my life.
On Monday, the Vestavia Hills City Council denied a business license to the Jimmy Hale Mission for a thrift store that would have provided discounted clothing and household items to those in need, and as a result continue to fund hands-on ministry which feeds the hungry, heals the sick, and many experience the love and grace of God. (Click here for a link to the article from The Birmingham News, and please don't pay any attention to the comments section, as it usually is reserved for vitriolic and hyperbolic debate).
Granted, The News does not quote any particular council member, but says "Residents were concerned about the possibility of unsightly dumping bins and the possibility the store could attract an undesirable clientele." Trash can become unsightly--fair enough--but last I checked Vestavia had garbage pick-up service.
Undesirable clientele. Some residents of Vestavia and 3 members of the city council (I applaud the one member who voted in favor of giving the ministry a business license) have dismissed those in another socio-economic class as undesirable.
I realize that there are many in Vestavia which were on the other side of this issue, and I certainly don't want to implicate all those living in the suburbs as I know many persons in those, and other areas, who often put their own economic interests on hold to help those in need. And while I do not know if the 4 members of the city council are persons of faith (though I would suspect they have some religious affiliation), I assure you this was not a "prayerful decision" (a phrase we often use in our Christian culture). If prayer was involved at any point before or during this decision, I assure you the decision would have gone the other way.
Some will revert to the old line "God helps those who help themselves." I challenge all readers to try and find that phrase in the scriptures, because it is not.
It doesn't take but a cursory glance at the Gospels (I hope we are reading them more intently than that, but for the benefit of the doubt) to see that Jesus cares about the poor. If there is one group that Christ gives preference to, it is those we often label "undesirable clientele."
I hope the United Methodist Churches in the Vestavia and surrounding area (such as Vestavia Hills UMC, St. Mark, and others) see this as an opportunity to expand their outreach ministries and open themselves even more to the movement of God.
When we tell our neighbors in Christ that they are not welcome, we shut off the great potential for God's creativity to change our lives, and theirs; we shut off the movement of the story of the Gospel to interact with the story of our individual lives, and others.
We are called to constantly look for Christ in our lives, throughout the world, and in the lives of others. I assure you that if Christ lived and walked today, he wouldn't be wearing an Armani suit. He would probably be wearing clothes from a Jimmy Hale Mission or Church of the Reconciler clothes drive.