When I was a kid, a favorite pastime of my friends and mine was to skip the Sunday morning service and raid the church kitchen while we hid out from our parents.
Usually there wasn’t much to be had, but if it was the day after a baby shower or even better – an ice cream social – we could hit the jackpot.
And by “jackpot” I mean a handful of those awesome buttercream mints and maybe a cookie or two.
Turns out our shenanigans were far more serious than we realized.
At least according to one church in Florida.
Recently a homeless showed up at the door of First Baptist Church of Royal Palm Beach looking for help. Not finding any, but noticing the door was unlocked, he entered the church and helped himself to a couple of cookies valued at the staggering sum of $2.25.
Startled by the cookie thief, a cleaning lady called police.
Now, that’s totally understandable. If you’re alone in a church and you know you’re supposed to be alone and suddenly there’s this random person you’ve never seen before wandering around, I totally get that you would get spooked.
What happened next, however, is totally inexcusable.
After discussions between police and church members, it was decided that the church would press charges.
The homeless man was then arrested and taken into police custody.
Which makes sense, cause as Jesus famously said in Matthew 25, “I was hungry. Did you have me arrested for getting something to eat at the one place I should be able to come to for help?”
Not surprisingly, and rightfully so, the church has received criticism for its decision to press charges.
a representative from the church has responded to the criticism by saying that the church’s decision to press charges had the homeless man’s interests at heart.
The representative wrote: “The young man appeared to be under the influence. Since he was wandering around the neighbourhood, the officer suggested the best course may be to press charges for the incident which would enter the young man into the system where he could find help.
“The church staff member agreed. Although our church partners with PBSO to provide hundreds of meals for needy families, this time we agreed with the officer’s suggestion that the young man needed more help than just a free meal. We have contacts with rehabilitation programs. We do refer individuals to such programs and in retrospect we might have done so with this individual.”
No. Just no.
The best course of action is not to make this young man’s life that much more difficult by adding criminal charges to his record.
By the church’s own acknowledgment, they have the connections and resources to help this man without making it substantially more difficult to find a job, secure housing, or accomplish a whole host of other basic tasks that will now be significantly more difficult because a church decided to press charges against a hungry man for eating $2.25 worth of cookies.
But, of course, while it’s easy to denounce this church for their so obviously un-Christlike actions, the reality is most of us aren’t much better when it comes to loving and serving the least of these in our community.
We may not be pressing charges against homeless people for eating cookies in our church kitchen, but that’s because most of us done such a good job keeping the needy at arms reach that they don’t even bother showing up to ask for help in the first place.