Crosswalk has a “Squares that Care” project they’re starting Saturday the 14th (at 10am, if you’re local and interested in attending). Their goal is to “crochet together two blankets to provide as Christmas presents for homeless Rogers High students this year.” In his announcement, the pastor pointed out that some of these teens are sleeping in their cars, or in bus stops, and having warm blankets for this would be a good thing. He mentioned the companion project, which was getting toiletries to one of the teachers at the school, because these kids come in early to shower and clean up.
But . . . they (the church) have a building.
In Crito, Plato, argues that one must submit to the laws of the state, just or unjust, because it is part and parcel of being a citizen. He argues that one might seek to change the laws of the state, but that one must not defy the laws (in his case, by fleeing his execution). But often defiance of unjust laws is the mechanism for changing those laws. Martin Luther King Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail writes on civil disobedience, and the moral responsibility we have to break unjust laws.
One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. . . .
One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
Donald McDonald writes about creating affordable housing on land where the homeless are already living. He created the City Sleeper (see also page 35). The problem he’s ended up faced with is code. As the mayoral spokesman in the article says:
”There’s no running water, no toilet facilities. It absolutely meets no code.”
Anyone else see the problem here?
There’s no running water or toilet facilities for the people who are already living on the streets.
The justification for not providing shelter is that the shelter doesn’t also provide services the unsheltered already lack. I’m sorry, we can’t give you bread, because you don’t a plate and a cup of water. Just bread absolutely meets no definition of dinner.
Maybe it’s time for the church (that is, all churches) to practice a little civil disobedience in the face of the strangulation of code. Maybe it’s time to start building strawbale and cob houses for the homeless right there on our church lawns, and tell the state that shelter for humans is more important than code compliance.