Social Concerns

Fred Smith relates a story about homelessness, humanity and Christianity.

By Fred Smith

Our daughter Brenda and I made one of our trips together to New York City. We had heard about the "street people" and their plight in Manhattan, but at that time we had not seen much of this. As we walked down Second Avenue early in the morning there stretched out on a yellow piece of plastic was a man right in the middle of the sidewalk. All over Grand Central Station they were lying up against the walls, men and women, some of them in fetus position sucking on a wine bottle like it was a baby's milk bottle. There they were all over the port authority bus station as we went out to New Jersey. I told Brenda, "not a single one of these persons got here by making a decision to be a street person. They simply got here by a series of irresponsible decisions." She told me of a volunteer experience she had through the Salvation Army. She taught interview and telephone techniques to a group of homeless men and women who were being retrained. When she did the initial ice-breaker she discovered that these were not the people she had anticipated, but a group of people who had made bad decisions, including a teacher and a landscape architect. Most of them could trace back their downward spiral to specific decision points.

When we encounter dire social needs we instinctively want to respond. As Christians we must respond to the poor, but as a church we should not let it set our agenda. The agenda of the church is not the poor but the lost. Those who have no scriptural base for their faith are constantly putting pressure on the church to accept the poor as their major agenda. There is subtle seduction in such an agenda for the leaders of the church. The media will cover the poor but not the lost. We get strokes for blessing the poor but we get criticism and ridicule if we put too much emphasis on the lost. We are accused of being divisive. Christ helped a few poor, but he made salvation available for all the lost. Even the few poor He helped were by miracle which is certainly not a viable example for us but rather a demonstration of His own power.

Christ changes lives ---- that is the heart of our social concern. Joe Blinko, one of Billy Graham's long time associates and the son of an Irish miner was asked if he really believed in the miracles, such as Christ turning the water to wine. He replied, "My father was a drunk. When he became saved, Christ turned whiskey into furniture." I have had quite a bit of contact with drug and alcohol centers and I have not found a single one that can be very effective without great emphasis on the spiritual. Wisdom says, "give a man a fish and he hungers again. Teach him to fish and he is fed." When the spirit brings new birth it is like learning to fish, not just receiving a fish. We "drink from the well that never shall run dry."

Our hearts are to be tender, but not turned toward secondary or ancillary concerns. Jesus came to change hearts and thereby change society….not the other way around.