The Theology behind Homelessness
So why do Church and Christians care?
The Church and Christians at large have long agonized over this issue, and engaged in ministries of hospitality for travelers and otherwise homeless people – it was one of the main ministries alongside prayer, of monasteries in the past and today.
Often Church and Christian groups have led the way in setting up night shelter schemes, and support services. The Bible text usually employed to support this is Jesus’ parable in Matthew chapter 25 of the sheep and the goats, where Jesus is found when the ‘hungry and thirsty are fed’ and ‘a stranger is taken home’.
In terms of Christian Social Action, the letter of James, chapter 2, verses 14-17, reflects on faith and action. Here the example is given of someone coming to you in rags with not enough food for the day, and only platitudes are offered with no useful action to help.
Is this good faith?
The answer is no, not without faithful action in this life to help.
So many Christians then with these and other texts seek to act to tackle homelessness, especially in its manifestation in what we today call Rough Sleeping.
The Christian/Jewish Theology of “a wandering people”
But for God’s people there is also tension between the concept of having a physical settled home to live in, and being a wandering people following the Son of God, who have no home on earth and no one place to lay one’s head. It is a real tension, as the overall theme of the Bible and Church tradition can be against being settled in one place, challenging us to welcome being uprooted and being a people on the move, homeless in this world, and only truly setting in the next.
The people of God often learnt more about who they are, and where they fit with God and Society, when they journeyed, journeys such as the 40 year Exodus from slavery to find the promised land. Jesus himself was born in a borrowed room in Bethlehem and then exiled with his family to Egypt.
There are many hymns and prayers that take up that theme as a positive example for the ongoing people of God, the Body of Christ, always being on the move.
These themes were discussed more fully in a London Churches Social Action gathering on the housing crisis, in December 2016, and can be viewed through the link here: by Rev James Bryson and Rev Graham Hunter .
Finally we might reflect here on the famous text from Hebrews 13:2 about entertaining Angels unawares, which itself reflects on the story of Abraham and Sarah entertaining Angels, and the famous Orthodox Church Icon, by Rublev, of that encounter which adorns many walls of Churches and centres which address the needs of homeless people.
THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS!
But although the theology above might suggest that not having a settled home can be seen as a good example to follow, a creative and character building opportunity perhaps, today’s society would accept that everyone has the right to a roof over their head. We pray every week about the number of refugees in so many places worldwide, and we are horrified at the fact that so many – millions of people worldwide – are forced to leave their homes, even their native countries.
And, of course, it is enshrined in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
All of the other things mentioned there become a great deal easier if the “Housing” part is sorted out!
In our country today, not having an address makes many everyday things a lot more difficult.
Visit our How To section to find out how YOU can help the homeless.