Commentary: Love thy neighbors. All of them.
Earlier this year, residents of Charlotte's Ballantyne area spoke out against a planned low-income apartment complex in their neighborhood. The project was later scrapped. A similar idea in southwest Charlotte has also drawn the ire of neighbors. Those responses have gotten the attention Reverend Kate Murphy, the interim pastor at Hickory Grove Presbyterian Church in northeast Charlotte. When I moved to Charlotte 5 years ago, I thought I'd made a mistake. There was at least one church on every street corner, sometimes 3 or 4. But I quickly realized that Charlotte needs that many churches, that's just how serious people are about faith around here. I know we have citizens of all faiths in Charlotte now - and I'm grateful for that - but, judging from all those churches and the number of Jesus fish and Christian bumper stickers I see in parking lots, the majority of us are Christians. And it's exciting to do ministry in a town where people are so excited about Jesus - faith communities seem to compete to see who can do the most good in the name of Christ. I'm proud to be a pastor in this city. But the past few weeks have been heartbreaking. First there was the public backlash against the Charlotte Housing Authority's proposed mixed income development in Ballantyne. And now it's happening again over the proposed building project in Arysley. I've read the angry letters in the Observer from people who are outraged that others who 'haven't earned it' will be able to live in these neighborhoods and ruin them with drugs and criminal activities. I've watched on the news as families with children march in the streets to protest poor people moving into their neighborhood. I wonder why more Christians aren't speaking out - but then I remember the number of churches and Jesus bumper stickers and realize, Christians are speaking out... they're speaking out against poor people. How is it that we have come to believe that poverty and wealth are moral categories? The amount of money in your bank account doesn't reveal the content of your character. People who live in poverty are not lazy deceitful criminals. And being wealthy does not mean that you are hard-working and honest. Ever hear of Bernie Madoff? Good and bad neighbors exist in all income brackets. The bible has a lot to say about how we are to treat our neighbors. Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. That means all our neighbors, not just the ones at an equal or higher income level, not just the ones who won't decrease our property values. And if Christians don't see a conflict between worshiping a poor Jesus on Sunday and protesting affordable housing on Monday, then as a pastor, I have to take some responsibility for that. Those of us who lead houses of faith in this city have got to work harder and preach more boldly. We need to help our congregations understand that we can't allow fear and self-interest to deceive us into becoming enemies of the poor.