As seems likely in the United States, according to the figures presented in the reading this week that 70 percent of Americans belong to a religious organization (O’Neill 55), I grew up attending a Christian church with my family and still attend one now. As I entered college, I found several religious groups, also registered 501(c)3’s, and looked for one that really matched made me tick. I first attended Campus Crusade, won $50 at the first gathering, but didn’t strike a chord with their goals. Later I stumbled upon InterVarsity, and was fascinated by their straight forward look at what Jesus taught about in the Bible, and going out and actually doing the same things. Since, I’ve slept a night homeless in Portland, worked at a domestic violence shelter, feed and hung out with the homeless on a regular basis, and am returning to Cairo, Egypt this summer to teach English to Sudanese refugees. Through this, I have found a poignant passage in the Bible that has become my mantra.
1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the LORD,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
In reading the statistics on giving that O’Neill cited in this chapter on the nonprofit work of religions, and also considering (as was mentioned in class) the ways churches use members’ donations is appalling. If I could control all church activities in one day, I would sell each church building on instead build relationships with local community organizations and share/rent spaces for church purposes. In my opinion, church buildings remove the congregation from their community to experience God and that is almost the exact opposite of the life that Jesus lived and that he calls his followers to live. The simple truth of it is: Jesus was homeless. He was born in a barn because his mom was fleeing her reputation as a slut because she was pregnant before being married, having citizenship in a town considered the backwash of Israel, which he was later exiled from for what he preached and who he hung out with (prostitutes and traitors to the Jewish culture). If I think of the stark opposite of this, I imagine the typical Western Christian. A contrast that I am also guilty for.
So how does this all relate back to the discussion of nonprofits? Simply, churches are granted the mobility and freedom to be a nonprofit organization and also be separate from state. This is a huge opportunity for churches to be forefront in social justice and human rights work, and I feel that the average church has fallen short. I hope that my generation, especially those who I’ve served the homeless beside, will be the catalyst that changes the way churches serve.