On North Tryon, a question about our values

The Men's Shelter of Charlotte is staying on North Tryon Street and beginning a $7 million renovation campaign.
The Men's Shelter of Charlotte is staying on North Tryon Street and beginning a $7 million renovation campaign.

From Rev. Bob Henderson, Senior Minister at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte:

Prosperity can turn out to be a mixed blessing. Paradox often accompanies progress. These truths have played out in recent weeks as Mark Middlesworth and other business owners anticipate capitalizing on the city’s decision to extend the Blue Line along the North Tryon Corridor. Specifically, with opportunity for prosperity in the North Tyron corridor, they are challenging the location of the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte and Urban Ministry Center, long standing ministries to our city’s homeless residents.

Ironically, the homeless neighbors are not perceived as good for business or land value, even though the Men’s Shelter is planning seven million dollars of property improvements. The concerns are understandable – homeless neighbors certainly complicate business environments – but they also raise an important question: What values should drive our community’s decisions?

The Bible has a lot to say about these matters. In fact, its message is hard to miss, though it’s so uncomfortable most of us do a pretty good job of selective reading. The prophet Isaiah lays down an appropriate word about this issue: “Woe to you who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you” (Isaiah 5:8). It’s a clear warning that when the holdings of the powerful increase, their vulnerable neighbors’ dislocation violates God’s justice.

Interestingly, Isaiah doesn’t accuse wealthy expansionists of using immoral means – violence, predatory lending, political influence – to dispossess the weaker residents. The prophet simply warns against connecting one valuable property to another to the detriment of the rest of the community. Jewish law finds this practice peculiarly inimical because it violates the core principles of loving God and neighbor.

Whether we like it or not, deep in the biblical tradition is a compelling moral imperative to treat the poor with decency, respect, and generosity, not only in acts of personal compassion, but in society’s very structure. It’s that last part that makes us uncomfortable, as my diverse congregation will sometimes remind me.

Yet the earliest writings of the Christian church cast a vision for God’s kingdom, which is predicated on social and economic justice. Christ’s followers are called not just to personal piety but to invest in creating a community of well-being for all its members.

We who live in Charlotte are more than consumers. We are citizens of this community, many of us people of faith who heed God’s call to seek justice for the most vulnerable of our society. My own faith community has joined many others in serving the poor of our city, including those at the Men’s Shelter. We’ve served thousands of meals, given substantial financial resources, and supported their board’s endeavors, all because our faith reminds us that we are all in this together, that we are responsible for one another, for neighbors near and far.