COMMENTARY: The poor, hungry and needy were incredibly important to Jesus.
In The Biblical book of Matthew, 19:21, Jesus said, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
How would our presidential candidates treat the homeless, hungry and disadvantaged in our nation? It’s hard to know for sure, as people’s views evolve over time. But it is possible to pick up some ideas.
This article is not a guide or suggestion on how to vote, but based upon public statements and broadcasts widely available. If you read carefully and prayerfully, it might give you an idea on how heavily (or not) our nation’s vulnerable lay on the hearts of our leading presidential contenders. Homelessness is, of course, just one of many issues that should guide you in the voting booth.
Donald Trump and the issue of homelessness
According to the New York Daily News and one Democratic publication, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump has complained for decades about homeless veterans who he says threatened his property values.
The News reported that Trump wrote in a 1991 letter to John Dearie, then-chairman of the state Assembly’s Committee on Cities, “While disabled veterans should be given every opportunity to earn a living, is it fair to do so to the detriment of the city as a whole or its tax paying citizens and businesses?”
He added, “Do we allow Fifth Ave., one of the world’s finest and most luxurious shopping districts, to be turned into an outdoor flea market, clogging and seriously downgrading the area?”
The publication claims he wrote a 2004 letter to then New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, claiming “Whether they are veterans or not, they (the vendors) should not be allowed to sell on this most important and prestigious shopping street.”
He reportedly warned, “The image of New York City will suffer… I hope you can stop this very deplorable situation before it is too late.”
The New York Daily News said the city’s original peddling exceptions for veterans date back to 1894 – created to give those disabled during the Civil War a chance to support themselves.
Commenting on a legally required public bench in the Trump Towers that has apparently ended up being covered with planters preventing anyone from sitting there, the New York Times reported that Trump wrote in an April 16, 1984 letter on file with the City Planning Dept, “We have had tremendous difficulties with respect to the bench — drug addicts, vagrants, et cetera have come to the atrium in large numbers.”
He added, “Additionally, all sorts of ‘horrors’ had been taking place that effectively ruined the beautiful ambiance of the space which everyone loves so much.”
Here is one of Trump’s specific plans for helping the disadvantaged. Quoted by authors and sociologists of religion Christopher Pieper and Matt Henderson in the Dallas Morning News, Trump said, “Teenage mothers (shouldn’t) get public assistance unless they jump through some pretty small hoops. Making them live in group homes makes sense.”
The column authors say, “His best 21st-century idea is the worst of 18th-century ideas.”
The authors were quoting from a 2000 book by Trump. Here is the rest of the quote. “Can restraint be taught? … A lot of these girls didn’t have fathers or full-time parents. But there are people — I think we can call them saints — who dedicate their lives to helping kids like this. Whoever they are, and whether they work out of a church, a temple, or some kind of public facility, they deserve all our support.”
But that notwithstanding, and hunger in New Mexico, Trump reportedly said that food stamps should be temporary.
Quoted in a publication 2011 publication “Time to Get Tough,” Trump added, “And it shouldn’t be needed often. Thankfully, 96 percent of America’s poor parents say their children never suffer even a day of hunger. But when half of food stamp recipients have been on the dole for nearly a decade, something is clearly wrong, and some of it has to do with fraud.”
He continued, “The blatant waste of taxpayers’ dollars … (is) all part of (the liberal) broader nanny-state agenda. Perhaps that’s why (the) administration doesn’t give a rip about policing fraud or administering responsible oversight-he’s buying votes.”
There was nothing on Trump’s official website about homelessness and hunger, but he did have a position paper about needed Veterans’ Administration reforms.
Hillary Clinton’s viewpoint on homelessness
In 1999, while speaking on CNN’s “Talkback Live,” Clinton called for the homeless not to be criminalized. She said, “Criminalizing the homeless whose only offense is that they have no home is wrong. Locking people up for a day will not take a single homeless person off the streets for good. It will not make a mentally ill person who should be in an institution any better. It will not help find a job for a responsible person who is willing to work.”
In 2008, speaking before the Democratic Compassion Forum at Messiah College, Clinton reportedly said that in the face of suffering, God calls on us to respond.
She added, “For whatever reason it exists, it’s very existence is a call to action. You know, in my Judeo-Christian faith tradition, in both the Old and the New Testament, the incredible demands that God places on us and that the prophets ask of us, and that Christ called us to respond to on behalf of the poor, are unavoidable.”
Clinton continued, “We are just not doing enough. And it’s a personal call; it’s a family community, religious call; and it’s a governmental call. And we’ve got to do more to respond to that call.”
There was nothing clearly visible on Clinton’s website specifically concerning homelessness, but she has a section devoted to her plan to combat alcohol and drug addiction. They’re both, of course, leading causes of homelessness.
How would Bernie Sanders help the homeless?
On his website, Bernie Sanders says that 3.5 million Americans homeless over the course of a year is a figure that needs to change.
He added, “It is unacceptable that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world as many as 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness over the course of a year. In 2013, the Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated that on any given night, over 600,000 Americans are homeless. It is unacceptable that so many Americans are living on the streets. We must increase affordable housing and work to reduce homelessness among veterans.”
A 2008 statement by Sanders on the Vote Smart website seemed to indicate a clear understanding of at least a portion of the problem of poverty and homelessness.
He said, “Homeless shelters are running out of beds. Food banks have depleted their supplies. Many elderly and poor people are in danger of going cold in their homes because the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is running out of funds to help pay record-high heating bills. And very many of these are working people … There is a level of desperation not seen in many years.”
Sanders does have a section dealing with poverty on his official website.
Communicate in love
Whatever your political ideas, communicate them in love. It is God’s grace and that love that will change our country, not (as Biola University President Barry H. Corey says in his new book) “the voices of barbed-wire Christians who are picking fights from pulpits, blogs, talk shows, town meetings or political platforms.”
Corey continued, ‘Kindness is not anemic or convictionless. Rather, it has the power to influence others, revealing the truth and grace of the Christian faith far more than the insecurity of confrontational posturing.”
To that thought I give complete agreement, and hope you do also.
Reynalds is founder and CEO of Joy Junction Inc., a faith-based nonprofit church organization dedicated to helping homeless men, women, children, and families in Albuquerque by providing food, clothing, shelter, and safety.