City in Oregon Threatens to Jail Local Pastor For Feeding the Homeless

(Kevinruss via Getty Images)
Does man-made law trump God's law? In this situation in a small town on the Oregon southern coast, Rev. Bernie Lindley of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church retorts an unequivocal "no" to that question.

Lindley recently told Oregon Public Broadcasting that "they are going to have to handcuff me and take me to jail, which they won't do," after the Brookings City Council passed a new ordinance that would limit churches' ability to serve free food to homeless people. "So, it's not going to happen; we're not going to stop feeding. We're going to do what Christ compels us to do."

The law for the 6,500-resident town, which would allow churches to only offer free food just twice weekly, was passed unanimously by the Brookings City Council after people living close to the charitable services complained about safety issues. Vice.com reports that the new regulation "comes alongside an intensifying national debate over the visible homeless crisis that has hit the West Coast particularly hard."

The city of Portland is particularly suffering from the homeless crisis in Oregon.

Compassion? Love thy neighbor?

A group of more than two dozen neighbors signed and submitted a letter to the city council and testified before the council in June, prompting the city's actions.

"Some of the things I've listened to in this meeting, 'love thy neighbor' was one of the things I found interesting since I took a petition around the neighborhood and about 90 percent were against what's going on at St. Timothy's Church," church neighbor Brandon Usry told kgw.com back in June. "I'm here to save my house. This is a public health concern, it's a safety concern for the public. We're not trying to solve the national crisis of homelessness here in Brookings."

KGW.com reports that St. Timothy's is prepared to sue the city over it's new restrictions. Lindley said the church had expanded its feeding services during the COVID-19 pandemic just as other local churches scaled back due to demand and worries about crowds because of the virus.

The soup kitchen at St. Timothy's, which had previously opened twice a week, began opening up four to six days a week during the pandemic.

"Parties on both sides agree that this will not help the issue at hand," Diana Cooper, who co-founded the non-profit Brookings Core Response, while employed at as a community health worker and advocate at St. Timothy's, said during the recent meeting that saw the ordinance pass. "Instead, it will come to a lawsuit, and should the church's First Amendment rights be upheld—and we believe they will—this will be the second lawsuit won against the city of Brookings for discrimination."

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