If the sin of the poor is envy, the sins of the rich are arrogance, snobbery, and a lack of compassion for those less fortunate. No where has then been more in evidence recently than in Brentwood, Tennessee‘s treatment of the homeless from the Nashville area. The Nashville homeless have an innovative program in which the homeless sell a newspaper, The Contributor, produced by the homeless and formerly homeless. The paper costs a dollar and the vendor can keep most of that dollar plus any tips. Not only has this initiative empowered the homeless, it has led to many of them finding homes and jobs. In Nashville, most people have no problem with the homeless selling papers at intersections.
Not so in Brentwood, Tennessee, a community known for its wealth. The town of Brentwood has given tickets to several homeless vendors, claiming that their actions violate city law. The ACLU is supporting a lawsuit against the town of Brentwood. Even though the legal issues are an interesting topic, I would rather focus on the ethics of the rich who do not want their community “stained” by the poor and less fortunate. People who are taking responsibility and engaged in a legitimate business are banned because Brentwood believes such will lower the quality of life within its sheltered community. The upper middle classes and wealthy are becoming more isolated from the rest of their local communities, often living in self-contained gated communities with their own shops for groceries and consumer goods. They are, in effect, hiding from the real world. But no one can ignore poverty except at great moral cost. Too often the rich, like those rich condemned by both the Old Testament prophets, Jesus Christ, the author of I and II Timothy, and the epistle of James, either exploit the poor or ignore their plight, desiring to hide behind a facade of wealth and McMansions. Such a denial of reality has gone to the extreme in the past of one North Carolina town banning death–the town passed a law that no one could die in the city, and the body was taken out of the city before death was pronounced. While this law was later changed, it illustrates the unnatural desire of some of the wealthy to ignore unpleasant facts of life–poverty, disease, and death. The latter is the lot of all people–but the rich can at least reach out to help those who are poor and homeless. Surely paying a dollar to a homeless person for a paper is not a blight on Brentwood’s quality of life. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to go to Heaven.” Jesus’ statement does not absolve other classes of moral responsibility, but it does point out that with greater blessings come more, not less, responsibility to reach out to the less fortunate. This is not to say that every person in Brentwood lacks compassion for the homeless, nor am I claiming that Brentwood has no programs for the homeless. But banning sales of The Contributor cannot but reflect an underlying attitude in at least a good portion of Brentwood.