This may be angrier than my typical blog post, but I really feel the need to get this off my chest.
There are suburban Christians who come into the DTES regularly to hand out tracts and to preach. I don't think this, in and of itself, is wrong. I am especially sympathetic with the ones who take the time to get to know the people to whom they preach. I remember talking to one woman in my neighbourhood whose journey to faith and freedom from addiction began thanks to a woman from Abbotsford who stopped by her tent in Oppenheimer Park every Friday night to give her a sandwich and a tract, and to talk to her.
But there are some "preachers" who are really starting to get on my nerves. My sources tell me you can find them at some of the Christian missions that make people to sit through a sermon before they serve them food.
I know these preachers second-hand. I hear their words come through the mouths of some DTES Christians I know.* It happens when the topic of gay people comes up. Or Catholics. (Two groups that are both represented in our community at Jacob's Well.) When these topics are broached (or sometimes, just out of the blue), these otherwise loving and accepting Christians start parroting the words and attitudes of these preachers. Attitudes of hate, prejudice, and exclusion, along the lines of: "God is angry at Vancouver and will judge us because of all the gay people," or, "The pope is the Antichrist."
I have no idea why you would come into a neighbourhood like the DTES and preach hatred and fear. Especially toward two groups who are so well represented in the DTES (for example, one study I read said that 40% of homeless youth in Canada identify their sexual orientation as the primary cause of their homelessness). Especially since they're also two groups who are quite involved in serving the DTES (I am thinking of the many lesbian feminists and Catholic sisters I know who work around here). And especially in the presence of marginalized people who have experienced their fair share of hatred and fear already in their own lives.
I see this preaching as spiritual abuse - abuse of people who are vulnerable for a variety of reasons, who easily accept your spiritual authority, who are less likely to question the things you say, and more likely to swallow it whole.
If you want to preach to my friends, read Jesus' sermons to people on the margins. They mostly contained words like "blessed are you." Or, "what do you want me to do for you?" Or, "go in peace."
Preach love. Preach welcome. Preach acceptance. Preach hope. Preach grace. Preach resurrection.
And if you feel the need to preach hate, please, do us all a favour and stick to the suburbs.
P.S. On the topic of Christians, the church, and gay people, I highly suggest that everyone read a series of blog posts by my friend Wendy Gritter. She has a way of approaching the issue (especially on a denominational level) that I had never before considered - as a "disputable matter," a category used by Paul for a different issue in Romans 14. Believe me, you really need to check this out. Here's the link to the first in the series.
*Believe it or not, there are a fair number of Christians in my neighborhood. Many people don't realize this, and they come preaching under the assumption that everyone in the neighborhood is heading to hell and is in dire need of some fire insurance. In reality, a lot of DTES residents know God, know Him in a deep and tried-and-true way. A lot of them have wrestled through a lot more crap in their lives than I have, and the fact that they cling to God in the midst of it all often amazes me.