Just over a week ago, I was complaining about how the massive Seattle Times project on homelessness was not spotlighting the religious element.
I spoke too soon. On Wednesday, a delicious story appeared with a cast of unusual players.
The villains are local Unitarians who are more obsessed with how the local trees are faring than the poor at their door. Everyone involved is all eco-conscious blue-state folks, but in the end, the bottom dollar is the bottom dollar.
Headlined “When do churches stop caring about people more than SUVs?” the story dishes out irony in buckets.
When University Unitarian Church leaders asked their congregation for thoughts on its $17 million renovation of their almost 60-year-old church in Ravenna, the response was mostly typical of a liberal Seattle church.
Will it have all-gender bathrooms? Could it be solar-powered, with electric-car charging stations? Is the new sanctuary ceiling too high, contributing to a corporate, rather than spiritual, feeling during worship?
Only one of the UUs -- a casual term for Unitarian Universalists, whose roots began in Christianity but count many agnostic and atheist churchgoers among their numbers -- asked about a cluster of three cottages on the property, which house 10 formerly homeless people. What would happen to them?
Preserving the houses and bringing them up to code would cost an additional million. Instead, the church will tear them down -- and replace them with 17 parking spots.
The reporter then interviews Brendi London, a resident who suffers from depression and PTSD, who will be displaced by the remodel, then a mental health specialist who tries to find housing for the poor in the city’s skyrocketing housing market.
The decision to demolish the homes is also part of a larger cultural shift at the church. After a “year of discernment,” church leaders decided that “the culture of social justice at UUC leans more towards advocacy than direct action,” such as housing formerly homeless people, as leadership said in a church meeting in April 2016.
“It’s important to know what you can do, and what you can’t do, and where government needs to step up,” (the Rev. Jon) Luopa said.
The whole thing is a bit odd, in that the church's web site shows a crowd of members hoisting "Love your Muslim neighbor as yourself" placards.
Should this flock of UUs be criticized for wanting the homeless to move on? At the end there is this:
(London) still hasn’t met any of the people who decided to demolish her home. Church members intentionally don’t meet the residents of the cottages for privacy reasons, they say.
But if she could, she’d ask them why she’s less important than a few parking spaces.
As someone in the comments section noted, the reporter didn’t interview any church members other than the pastor. That's a solid point about basic journalism. Had a reporter attended an actual service at the church (and the article gives no indication that he did), he could have picked up more quotes from folks who might have felt the homeless had been given long enough to stay there.
Were the people who want to boot the homeless out on the atheist/agnostic end of the church pole or were they closer to traditional faith and its creeds about caring for the less fortunate? UUs can be Jewish or Buddhist as well as Christian.
London had lived there four years for very little money, but I would have liked to have known how long the church had allowed other former homeless people to live in these cottages. If we’re talking, say, several decades, then the Unitarians’ decision to modernize is understandable.
But it does seem odd, as one scans their site, to see a congregation so infused with a desire for justice also be intent on taking out the housing on one side of their lot. How far does being their brother's keeper go?
In a time when the bad guys in the news are all on the conservative side of the religious spectrum, it's quite the switch to see a story showing how cluelessness exists among the Left as well.