Given the choice between helping homeless people and appeasing a few riled parishioners, what would Jesus do?
That’s the question the story of Rev. Joel P. Miller brings to mind. Miller, a minister at Calvary Episcopal Church, is being shunned all around for trying to lend a helping hand. Miller’s church should view him and his actions as exemplary, not problematic.
In June 2008, Miller, head reverend of Calvary, initiated Coffee House Ministry. Along with some local homeless activists, Miller led this Monday night philanthropy tradition, in which the church welcomed homeless people for coffee and dinner. As many as 150 people would show up on any given night.
However, some churchgoers grew irritated with the attention Miller was devoting to homeless issues, as well as the way the church was transforming into a haven for the homeless.
The anger escalated on June 11, last year when an argument between a parishioner and a homeless man allegedly ended in the man shaking the woman by her shoulders and yelling. Miller was then charged with “conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy” by the Episcopalian Church, a serious charge that could result in the clergyman’s suspension or even defrocking.
Although violence should never be tolerated at a church or anywhere else, it is a mistake to let one altercation define all of Miller’s efforts.
Incidents happen, and the police arrived quickly to diffuse the situation. One man’s mistake should not overshadow the world of good Miller did by opening his church and its resources to Santa Cruz’s homeless community.
The problems facing homeless people in Santa Cruz have been well documented in City on a Hill Press — there’s even an article in this issue about the sleeping ban.
The city does not have enough shelters and kitchens for everybody.
Providing a space for people to safely congregate is a great help — and exactly the sort of thing Christians are supposed to do.
In his Sermon on the Mount in the Bible, Jesus says, “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42).
Instead of being hardhearted and tightfisted, the Episcopalian higher clergy, Calvary Episcopal Church parishioners, and the Santa Cruz community in general should be grateful towards Miller.
He should be gaining new members for his church, not losing them.
We stand in support of Joel Miller and hope the threat of being defrocked does not deter him from continuing to help the homeless, one of Santa Cruz’s most vulnerable communities.