A Christian women’s shelter in Alabama is forcing homeless residents to attend the largest megachurch in the state and, when they get a job, give that church 10 percent of their income.
This is exactly the opposite of how things should work. Churches and homeless shelters should be helping people, and not forcing them to give up what little money they do have, but that’s exactly what Jessie’s Place in downtown Birmingham is doing.
It’s one thing to require church attendance – it’s a Christian shelter so that isn’t a big surprise. But it’s quite another to tell a woman like Dana Johnson, who has been living at Jessie’s Place for about a month and wanted to attend her own church just a few blocks away, that she must attend a branch of Church of the Highlands.
First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, where Johnson wanted to attend, is walking distance from the shelter. But instead of letting her go there, shelter leaders said she is required to go to their megachurch, according to AL.com.
For three consecutive Sundays, she and other residents boarded a van and attended worship services at the Woodlawn branch of the Church of the Highlands, Alabama’s largest church.
Jessie’s Place has responded to the allegations, saying the policy keeps women from lying about going to church. They also denied that the women are required to give money to that specific church, but Johnson called them out on that claim. She also pointed out that 10 percent of your income is a lot when you’re homeless.
When she got a job, Johnson, 47, said she was also told she was required to tithe, or donate 10 percent of her income. She was told to go to a bank, get a money order and make it payable to the Church of the Highlands, she said.
“Someone living in a shelter is not tithing big money,” Johnson said. But it is a significant amount to a homeless person, she said.
Johnson added that other Christian shelters have required her to attend that same megachurch, but they didn’t force homeless women to tithe. They also didn’t bus her far away from the shelter to go to a specific church despite the existence of more convenient and preferred ones.
This isn’t a legal issue — it’s a Christian group and they can make homeless women attend whichever church they see fit. But it certainly is an ethical issue, and I think it’s clear that what this shelter and megachurch are doing is morally wrong. It certainly doesn’t sounds like what Jesus would do.
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