We know the title of this post is shocking, but we mean it very much.
We all know about the good works the Salvation Army does: Not just putting people with bells and kettles on the corner and outside the shops at Christmas and collecting old household stuff and clothing for thrift-store resale, but also disaster relief, feeding the hungry... and sheltering the homeless.
It is in this last function that we find the Salvation Army to be wanting. Let us explain.
As most of you know, I operate a taxicab for a living. Last night at fifteen minutes to eleven PM, a black gentleman in his late 20s to early 30s came running full tilt toward my taxi. He offered me a $20 tip if I got him to the Salvation Army shelter in Annandale, Virginia by 11PM. He explained that they would not admit any shelter resident after that time.
I used every skill I have developed in almost 40 years of pushing a hack, including knowing how many miles per hour I could exceed the posted limit without being bothered by the cops and how to blow the yellow light at Duke and Gordon to ensure making the timed lights at Pickett, S.Pickett, Paxton, Reynolds, and Walker. Even with all that, we were brought up short by the light at Beauregard.
I drove down Little River Turnpike like a bat out of hell. Even for all that, we arrived at the Salvation Army at - by the clock on my company computer - 11:01 PM. I was handed $36 for the 15 dollar fare by the man, who ran inside. I followed.
The Salvation Army Charge of Quarters guy just glanced up and said: "You're AWOL, man. You're three minutes late."
They would not let him in. Way to show a sinner the mercy of Christ, you hammerhead.
The poor soul asked to speak to the duty supervisor. He got the same answer. I tried to intervene, but the both of them would not even listen. I wound up giving the guy his fare overpayment back. I would have given him all the money back, but I was more than a little concerned about possibly falling into the "mercies" of the Salvation Army myself if I didn't have the rent on this darn motel room, from which I would have been unceremoniously booted out had I offered him shelter here.
Now, it's not as if I don't understand why anyone sheltering homeless people must set pretty strict standards about the comings and goings of the residents. Some of these people are out on bail or some other kind of conditional release from custody, as I gathered from his remarks my passenger was. You cannot risk having some guy waltz in at 1 AM fresh from a day and evening of supervising sales of crack cocaine or pimping out teenage girls or shoplifting stuff and selling it to cabbies at some hack stand (and it happens more often than you'd think). I would agree that 11 PM is a very reasonable deadline.
But this man had been traveling on the D.C. area's famously effed up Metro rail system. I will give the Salvation Army the benefit of a doubt and presume that they have a policy that should a shelter resident run into an unavoidable delay they can phone the shelter to tell them they are running late and why.
However, many of the homeless cannot afford a cell phone. Moreover, in much of the Metro system even emergency personnel's communications do not work. Land lines? Just try to find a pay phone ANYWHERE in the National Capital Area. Borrow a phone at a business or from a stranger? Don't make me laugh.
But to bind your Charges of Quarters to a rigid hard and fast rule that if one is late by - as the supervisor said - "Three minutes, one minute, you're still AWOL" and deny shelter to a human being as the temperature outside is plummeting from shirtsleeve weather down to fur lined leather trench-coat levels is NOT what Jesus would have done. I personally do not think that what happened last night would even be something He would have approved of.
It would be different if this man had been habitually late, but first off I know people pretty well, and this guy would have mentioned that this was the case by saying "This will be the third time this month I've been late and I've been warned" or words to that effect had this been the case; and second neither the CQ or his supervisor mentioned any habitual lateness in "explaining" why they were denying him access.
When things like this happen; when Christians turn people out into the cold because of some petty, trumpery violation of some hard and fast rule that makes no provision for ANY kind of human error; it blunts the witness of we rank and file Christians who try to tell folks about God becoming a human and dying a horrible death to atone for our imperfection. It reinforces the image of Christians who walk about in white nightgowns, palms together with thumbs up and noses in the air disdaining those who are not as "perfect" as we are; when in fact we are all just as guilty (absent the atoning death and Resurrection of Jesus) as the vilest person imaginable. We are NOT perfect. Our imperfection is forgiven and covered by the Blood shed on the Cross. We have been shown mercy and how; and we are expected by Jesus to show mercy in kind.
Really, if the man had been even five minutes late, it would have been at least understandable. But a lousy three minutes and he is turned out into the cold without mercy?
Salvation Army, you fellows really screwed the pooch last night.
Shame on you.