Can You Legislate Immorality?...
The city of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (the “Venice of America”), has made headlines over its arrest of 90-year-old Arnold Abbott, a chef whose crime is feeding the hungry. Mayor Jack Seiler has defended the city’s policy, saying, “It’s a public safety issue. It’s a public health issue.” Presumably, the public would be better served by skipping a few more meals than by risking the, let’s say, botulism so characteristic of charitable handouts. But since Ft. Lauderdale has passed three other ordinances targeting the homeless, aimed at eliminating begging at public intersections, sleeping on public land, or storing personal property on public property, it may boil down to a simple difference of opinion as to the meaning of “public.”
Encountering a poor person can make a lot of people uncomfortable. The level of this discomfort can range from feeling such a degree of intimidation that you fear for your safety to a mild guilt that you know there’s a hot meal and a warm bed waiting for you pretty much anytime you need it. Since most of us are likely to be the rich person in the encounter (even if very few of us ever think of ourselves as wealthy), it is nearly inevitable that rules and laws favor the majority. Wouldn’t most of us be happier if we never had to see poor people sleeping in the park, foraging through trash cans, or standing at the exit ramp we use everyday? And if we stop feeding the hungry, won’t they just go away?
As a society, there are a lot of ways we can go on this issue. For Christians, though, the menu is spare.
Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.
Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.
There are hundreds more, of course, but none suggest the sort of action likely to be popular with the local chamber of commerce. The kingdom of heaven might cater to a different public than the city of Ft. Lauderdale. Which one do we want to live in?
Photo courtesy of Mister GC, freedigitalphotos.net