Ministering to the Needy and Homeless

Ministering to the Needy and Homeless

Across the United States, church officials are threatened with prison time for helping homeless people. Churches in Bryan, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; Tempe, Arizona; Houston, Texas; Santa Ana, California; Brookings, Oregon; and Pottstown, Pennsylvania, have been threatened with legal action by city authorities for ministering to the needy and homeless.

The problem in these cities is that zoning laws and codes prohibit churches from serving food or providing shelter for people who are in need. When churches violate those rules, the police are required to shut down the services. In the cases cited, the cities offer no alternatives for churches ministering to the needy and homeless.

Jesus made it clear that His followers should meet the needs of those without life’s essentials. He said in Matthew 25:31-40 that His followers should provide people in need with food, water, clothing, medical help, and shelter for the homeless. He expects His followers to provide counseling and support for those in prison.

Eric Tars, the legal director at the National Homelessness Law Center, said, “You’re very much damned if you do, damned if you don’t.… Officials would have thrown the innkeeper in jail for offering his manger to Joseph and Mary because it wasn’t zoned for residency and didn’t meet the fire code.”

This situation is only going to get worse as migrants are bused into cities and left to fend for themselves. The secular world is not going to help them, and, as is always the case, it will be up to churches to find a way to address their needs. There are creative ways to address the problem, but any help will involve cost. The bottom line is whether churches want to do what Jesus taught His followers by ministering to the needy and homeless.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “Could helping the homeless get you criminal charges? More churches getting in trouble” by Claire Thronton on USA Today