The Church Myth

It’s probably true to a certain extent with all peoples, but it’s seems more true with America, that we live by myths. We prefer a good story over the truth.

One such myth is that Churches pick up where the government leaves off, when it comes to charity. But, that’s not the reality of it. Most often, when people become homeless, they turn to the church, even before going to the government for help.

But as I discovered, churches are no longer places of sanctuary. Every church I went to, when I first became homeless, turned me away at the door. The two basic responses I got were, “you’re not a member of this church, we only help church members,” or “we cannot afford to help you.”

Truth is, people turn to churches first for help, and the government picks up where churches fail.

I too believed the myth that people in America could turn to churches in times of need. But reality struck me square in the face. This disillusionment was the beginning of my irritation.

Oh, there are things that some churches do in the name of the “needy,” but when you get close enough to it you see it for what it really is. Even with their charity work, churches are mostly self serving entities, insisting that everything they do be labeled with their name, their denomination, etc. Their focus isn’t on helping the needy, their focus is on making a show of helping the needy. In their act of charity, their attention is not on the needy but on facing the camera with their best side, metaphorically speaking. So, most of the time what is given to the needy doesn’t meet the needs of the needy as much as it makes the church look good.

For 30 years, chaplains at the rescue mission told me that all I needed, so to solve my problems, was to read the bible and pray. That is their answer to everything. They consider no other possible solution to problems. Well, what I really needed was a proper diagnosis of my mental health condition (Asperger’s Syndrome) and a good therapist to teach me some coping skills. But that help never came my way while homeless, so I languished on the streets. The rescue mission still preaches against psychology, declaring that all problems people have are based on their faulty relationship to God, and that only by developing a right relationship with God can they overcome them. Can you believe that? They even tell that crap to people with severe Schizophrenia.

Yes, in the past few years things have changed, to a small degree. Some people are actually starting to pay attention to the needs of homeless people, and responding in proper and significant ways. Still these people are in the minority. Hopefully, they are a sign that things are changing. But, when I look at politics today and see how the Rightwing does everything they can to discourage compassion for their fellow man, I have doubts about the future.

By the way, I finally did get that diagnosis and have an exceptionally good therapist. I got it with the help of government agencies, agencies whose funding is being threatened.

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About Kevin Barbieux

I have been diagnosed as being chronically homeless. I write about my experiences and opinions of being homeless

8 comments

  1. Don't let the greed of big pharma not distract from the very real and serious issues our society is facing. Like today is more stressful and more complex than any other time in history. This stress is more than many people can handle without the aid of some drug or another. Yet, instead of taking steps to lessen the stress we live under, the powers that be, mainly the corporations who have a strangle hold on our economy, are only ratcheting up the stress. These wealthy people just can't get enough profits, profits that come by way of the mass's sweat and toil. Some people chain smoke to deal with the stress. Others smoke marijuana. For those with a need, but lacking the desire for illicit drugs, they turn to the pharmaceutics. We are not having an epidemic of drug use as much as an epidemic of depression and anxieties.

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  2. Anonymous

    You presume I know little. I’ve been involved with more than one psychiatrist, psychologist, and therapist. I would also say that you speak from a prejudiced perspective. Furthermore, everyone's opinion is prejudiced to a certain extent. You're on one side of the fence and I'm on the other. That's why talk and debate are good. If you look at my comments I state that I speak from my experience, which is an admission that my view is prejudiced to a certain extent.

    For me to prove my claims I would have to get some people out of all the professions aforementioned to admit what I said and to do that would mean they would have to incriminate themselves and be liable. Do you think that’s going to happen? I am making judgments from the results I’ve seen.

    My claims are from something like circumstantial evidence, which normally doesn’t hold up all that well in a court system unless you have a bunch of it. And so I cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this is what’s happening. I can’t for sure know the minds of others. And I don’t doubt that there are sincere psychiatrist, psychologist, etc. out there because I know one, but even with the best ones people are still guinea pigs, and perhaps unintentionally, because we know so little about the mind.

    And now I will put you in the same predicament you put me.
    You prove to me from a percentage standpoint that Americans do not take many more meds today than they did 30 years ago or even 20 years ago or even 10 years ago? I also will give you the opportunity to prove something you can’t.

    It is an epidemic. I believe this is what’s happening. The pharmaceutical companies are pushing their drugs down our throats because the more we take the richer they get. And they know this fits so well with our mentality in then USA. We think we can fix every problem, but that’s not the case. We have a pill for everything. The latest one I heard advertised was a pill for shift workers. Now that’s a joke. Look at how many commercials we have on TV advertising meds. That’s ridiculous. But I’m getting a bit off subject and showing more of my prejudiced side.

    Thanks for the talk and debate thus far, but I’ve got work to do. Even though I enjoy it, I usually don’t get into the discussions on blogs because it takes up more time than I have to give, but I’m willing to continue.

    Wow!!! We sure have strayed from your original topic I would like to get back to that soon.

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  3. Wow Anonymous, you presume a lot of things of which you know little about, such as how psychiatrists operate. That you paint the entire with such a broad brush, it's obvious that you talk from a prejudiced perspective. I know you can't, but I'll offer you the opportunity to prove any of your claims here. Real proof, not anecdotal declarations.

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  4. Anonymous

    I did not say that all people on disability should not be on it and hope I did not insinuate that. I said from my experience that about half should not be on it. And you are right about the process being long and grueling. Here's what I've seen happen far too many times. I'll give you a personal example of what I'm talking about. A young woman has been an addict for years (and perhaps because the church did not help her) who ends up in and out of jail for drug possession, assault, etc. Before long, perhaps while locked up, she sees a psychiatrist. And by the way most psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, etc. either assume something is wrong with the person coming to see them or are trying to find out what is wrong so as to diagnose and treat the patient. In this woman’s case it is obvious something is wrong with her and primarily because of the years of drug abuse. Instead of writing too much I’m going to get to the point: most doctors do not get to the source of the problem but rather treat the symptoms. In theory, every living person can get a diagnosis that requires treatment with meds because every living person has problems. This woman had more than one diagnosis and has finally got on disability and several meds I might add. In essence, she is no better now than she was, other than her drugs are now legal. On top of that, like many others, she is still an addict and often takes much more of her meds than prescribed and has to get others illegally to compensate for her overuse. The government's charity has become cruelty just like the church’s charity. What needed to happen was for someone to help her get into a rehab and afterwards take her in their home and teach her life skills help her go to college and get a job, however long it took. Psychiatrists treat with meds and so will never be able to do this. This is what the church should be doing and also teaching her spiritual matters, which help overcome the physical infirmities. We are failing as a people to truly help those who need it.

    Also, think about the Indians. They were much better off until the government started helping and supporting them financially on reservations. Now they have the highest rate of alcoholism in the USA. African Americans were starting to do pretty well until the government started helping them. Now they are worse off than ever. All these years later proves that it didn’t work. I read an article called “Uncle Sam’s Plantation” written by a black woman. You could probably find it on the net. Good article.

    Something else I might add and then I’ll shut up soon. I bet there are a lot more people on government assistance now (percentage wise) than there were 20 years ago. I thought we were getting more advanced and stamping out more diseases that riddle us as a nation, but if you look at the disability statistics it would seem to the contrary.

    I like your blog. Keep it up. At least your not sitting doing nothing like so many I know.

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  5. Dear Anonymous, the only problem with your accertion, that the government is doing a bad job with “charity” is that the vetting process for receiving disability benefits is intense, grueling, and very invasive, all so to make sure that only those people will real needs are able to get the limited disability funds that our government gives out. To qualify, several professionals have to vouch for your condition – doctors, psychiatrists, specialists in whatever field serves that particular disability. More often than not, people with disabilities are denied benefits.

    There are people who can be productive but only on their own terms. We live in a highly complex and highly stressful society, and being able to conform to the demands of maintaining gainful employment is becoming more difficult all the time. Using myself for example, some people think that because I can maintain this blog that I would qualify for employment. But the fact of the matter is, no employer would be satisfied with my output here. It takes me too long to produce anything because of my inability to focus. In a different social and economic climate, I might have been able to become self sufficient. But these days, I just can't fit in. The stress to produce, for me, is overwhelming, causing my anxiety levels to increase dramatically, and interfering with my ability to function.

    Outside of the demands of employment I can do some things well. But where bottom line profits are THE priority, no one is willing to pay me for my time and effort.

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  6. Anonymous

    The “Church Myth” is true to a certain degree, but I think for different reasons than mentioned above. I can't remember who said it but it goes something like this, “Has my charity become cruelty.” I too am a pastor and work with the homeless, addicts, etc. and the fact is that churches are not “helping” people. When you give a person on the corner five dollars you are keeping him in his condition. When a known addict comes to you wanting food and you give it to him you are keeping him in his condition. You “charity has become cruelty.” What churches need to do is offer that person a way to be rehabilitated and quit giving hand outs that keep people homeless and addicted. Here is why I say the Church Myth is only partially true: the government, too, is as bad as churches in their failure to truly help people. I know more people on disability that shouldn't be on it than I do people who truly need it. I see so many fruitless people in this town who are on disability that it’s an epidemic. When people get on disability, unless truly needing it (I would say by a modest standard that at least half should not be on it), it does something to their mentality and for the most part they no longer have a desire to better themselves. They are stuck depending on that monthly check to come in (the irony is that these are most of the people I minister to, the ones the government has “helped”). My conclusion is that neither the church nor the government is doing a good job at “helping,” I mean truly helping people who need it. The church and government has let their “charity become cruelty.”

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  7. As a Pastor and one who has helped/tried to start a homeless shelter here in Montrose, Colorado I do agree Kevin's assessment on the “Church Myth” as true to fact at least here in Western Colorado. Very few organizations take more than a “I will pray for you” stance to help and are more concerned about the one upping the other church to get attention, attendance and notice. In the last three years here, only one or two churches have tried to help, and these have been organizations with very little funding. The rest have been building “activity centers, expansions, renovations” in a time when people are losing their homes and becoming homeless. A good example in our part of the country is we have 30+ churches (wow) in a very small rural community and our ministry is in the “U” category at the end of the phone list. We are not joined with a major organization, I pay for all we do to help out of the job God has blessed me with and still help others with that. Guess what we have seen? By the time they get to us they have gotten lots of “we will pray for you” and nothing to help.

    Churches need to wake up and help and not pander to a problem. We have almost put ourselves on the street helping others, but this is WHAT the Bible says to do and not what is an option!

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  8. Scott

    I enjoyed this post and think it's quite accurate. I'm not sure how much correlation there is between knowing god and escaping homelessness. Certainly one could lead to the other, but it's not a guarantee. Even so, the benefits of a deeper faith that may lead out of homelessness can be replicated completely independent of religion.

    However, I find that religion and charity are not separable due to religion being the main driving force of philanthropy. There are few charitable organizations founded by atheists. Church does provide people with a reason to improve their communities even if that reason stems from a sense of guilt or obligation.

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