If you know me, you know that everything I believe in and fight for is an expression of my values which are rooted deeply in my faith. I’m never shy about speaking about my religious convictions as an Orthodox Christian. I have even written articles in this paper, where I am usually tackling political questions, espousing my religious values. If you’re following the local news about ordinances before the Rome City Commission on panhandling and homelessness, you will have already heard and will continue to hear from advocates who are experts on these issues, who have dedicated their lives to helping those in need. They have far greater knowledge than I do about how these problems can be addressed and what we can do locally to help reduce homelessness. I won’t try to pass myself off as a policy expert in this area. Instead, I’m going to talk about where this issue hits me personally as a question of values and how what we do will define what kind of community we want Rome to be.
Usually the first person who comes to mind for me when we discuss these issues is St. John Chrysostom. Chrysostom was a fifth century Archbishop of Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey). His successor today is Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians across the world. Chrysostom was an advocate for the poor and needy, and often criticized the excess and lack of action on behalf of the government to help such people. So much so that he was exiled for his speech, where he died. It was only a generation later that he was recognized for his holiness and restored posthumously to his good standing. He once said, “If you do not find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find him in the Chalice.” If you cannot see Christ in those on the streets, who need your help, you won’t find him by sitting in the pews. This is a question of our values.
This might seem radical, but he’s only echoing Christ himself who also stood up for the least of these. In Matthew 25, the Lord gives a parable of the last judgment. In it, He separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep are called blessed and welcomed into eternal life. The goats are called cursed and sent into condemnation. His rationale for this separation is based on whether or not we saw that “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.” The sheep did this, and the goats did not. Both called him “Lord” (And in Matthew 7:21, he tells us, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven.”) and asks when they saw him and helped him (if they are sheep) or saw him and did not help (if they are goats). His answer is that “inasmuch as you did it (not) to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” He calls each of the needy his “brethren” and judges us on whether we helped them or not. This is a question of our values.
If we pass these ordinances, we are telling these needy, these brethren of the Lord and indeed Christ himself, that they are not welcome here. That we will not feed him, nor clothe him, nor visit him, nor care for him nor welcome him but that we will punish him for simply being in need of help. By shutting these people out, we shut out Christ and say he is not welcome here. This is a question of our values. This commission has seen fit so far to do little or nothing to help these people for years, and the action they decide to take is to criminalize them. This is against my values, and if we are to be a community that values human life and dignity, a community that espouses these religious values, a community that lives morally, this is against our values as Romans as well. And we need you to stand up and say so.
♦ The second reading and vote on these proposals is Aug. 26 at City Hall. Caucus is at 5 p.m., and the commission meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. I urge my fellow Romans who share these values of faith with me to be there and urge the commission to do the Christian thing, to do the moral thing, to do the right thing, and to resoundingly vote down these ordinances and welcome Christ in our midst.