As director Billy Woodward explained to WYMT Mountain News, the problem of people engaging in sex at the shelter has recently gotten worse. Woodward referred to these people as the “ungodly type” before asking 10 to 12 women to vacate the shelter within the past two weeks. Since the shelter housed more men than women, Woodward sent the women to a female-only facility 30 minutes away. The shelter will also no longer accept children unless it is a male child with a homeless father. Townspeople and even the mayor disagree with this recent change that excludes women and children from the only homeless shelter in Williamsburg.
This is a rock-and-a-hard-place dilemma we see often in the religious arena. While religious organizations are required to comply with federal laws, they often look for a workaround to obey God’s law instead. (Hobby Lobby or Kim Davis, anyone?) For those who have ever been part of a religious community, and for Woodward, this line of thinking makes sense — God is the ultimate judge, and He is the first authority figure that people of faith have chosen to answer to.
But look at this situation rationally and without bias, and you’ll see a religious argument full of holes. If we’ve seen it once, we’ve seen it a hundred times: Emergency Christian Ministries is yet another religious group trying to enforce a hypocritical double standard.
Most people are familiar with the “laws of the Lord” versus the laws of the land. Jesus commanded his followers to feed the hungry and clothe the needy, which appears to be what this homeless shelter is trying to do. The issue comes with the human misinterpretation of the laws of the Lord: A person put in charge says that the poor and needy should be without sin to receive these benefits.
The big problem is that Jesus never said that. And there's also that whole thing about letting whoever is without sin be the first to cast a stone.
It’s one thing to have basic house rules in a homeless shelter to keep order, like curfew and the 10 to 2 rule. Some shelters even require no smoking and drinking as a preference. But to enforce any of these rules as a means to reduce “sin” quickly takes a charitable organization’s guidelines into judgment territory. Pinning this sex problem on women, who make up slightly less than the majority of the shelter at 38 percent, is another patriarchal religious problem altogether.
If sin is being used as an excuse to kick women out of a shelter, then the same rule should apply to all unsavory lifestyle choices. As the religious argument dictates, any adult in the shelter who is struggling to get back on their feet should be evicted for sins like using drugs, abusing, lying and stealing — a policy that would very likely leave the shelter (and many local churches) well below capacity.
You’d think we would have realized by now that none of us is perfect, which makes religious groups trying to enforce this perfection in the name of God all the more disappointing. But for the rest of us who don’t agree with this shelter’s discriminatory decision, it presents the opportunity to practice what we preach.
Condemning the shelter for condemning sexually active women would make us just as guilty. Instead, let’s all agree that we are missing the point. The purpose of a homeless shelter is to provide support to people in need, and whatever your beliefs may be, Jesus made it clear that it’s about giving with no strings attached.
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