The winds of change blowing on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures are making a cold world for those without power or wealth. Couched in the language of "personal responsibility" and "individualism," a countrywide backlash has lawmakers suggesting that government get out of the welfare business and let the churches and charities take care of society's outcasts.
This ignores, of course, the reality that churches have always ministered to those untouched by government's overburdened programs. They do so cheaply and effectively, quietly responding to the needs of their brothers and sisters around them. Even without directly confronting the powers that create poverty, these churches often find themselves under attack, as their mere existence challenges gentrification, "revitalization," and other agendas that neglect the poor.
Washington, D.C.'s Luther Place Memorial is one such church. For 23 years, since deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill dumped thousands on the streets, Luther Place has ministered to the homeless. Over time, Luther Place fine-tuned its ministry from one of temporary relief from harsh weather conditions to a full-time shelter and multifaceted programs to help residents not only come in from the cold, but get back on their feet. The church has run these programs almost entirely on individual donations, with little or no government or foundation funding. Thus Luther Place manages to meet the currently vogue preference for private sector action while doing what the gospel requires.
Even so, Luther Place has been attacked. Four years ago, the church decided to renovate some of its properties to better meet the overwhelming need evidenced in the waiting list for its existing programs. Though members approached the local neighborhood association ahead of time to invite input and support, neighbors blocked the church's efforts. In the years to follow, Luther Place found itself