"Are you sick and tired of the lies and games being played by Charis Community Housing...? Martin Street Plaza belongs to you the tenants... the money allocated to Martin Street Plaza belongs to you. Charis is attempting to take control of the Martin Street Plaza complex... has not kept any of the commitments it made to the residents... is exploiting residents and using government funds while pretending to help them. They make salaries over $100,000... resident employees receive $6.00 per hour... We are sick and tired of people pretending to help poor people and at the same time robbing them. Demand an audit of your fund... demand that Charis staff be removed from your project. Join the Coalition to help fight for and demand your rights... before it's too late!" Geraldine Lowrey The City Wide Coalition On Public Housing
My righteous indignation would have been burning had these charges of blatant mistreatment of the poor been directed at someone other than us. Instead, I was reeling from disbelief. Geraldine Lowrey, a self-proclaimed advocate for the poor who I never even heard of, had mailed several pages of venomous distortions and deceptions to community residents, corporate and foundation partners, and political leaders "exposing" our ministry for ripping off the poor. I was dumbfounded. How could this be happening?
Charis Community Housing is our housing ministry which has built modest homes and provided affordable apartments for many low-income neighbors in the community. Martin Street Plaza, a badly neglected public housing project overrun by drug dealers, has clearly been our most monumental undertaking. For more than five years we have worked with the resident leadership to help them gain control of the complex, wrest the management out of the hands of an incompetent housing authority, and raise private donations to rehab the apartments. Of even greater significance, our efforts together had produced a resident-owned cooperative to actually take ownership of the property. It was enormously satisfying when, after long years of effort, we began to see pride gaining an upper hand over depression as families at Martin Street became wage earners, many of them taking jobs in property management, security and maintenance, right in their own housing community. They began to refer to their complex as "the gem of the Summerhill crown." Martin Street Plaza became a model of hope that residents, HUD, corporate partners and Charis all felt justifiably proud of. That was before things turned sour and Charis ended up the oppressor.
"No good deed goes unpunished," says one of Murphy's tongue-in-cheek laws. I am continually amazed at how quickly a positive accomplishment can be undone by the sowing of a little discord. All it takes is a community leader feeling by-passed or a disgruntled employee yelling "discrimination" to ignite passions that can spread like wildfire. In no time, an angry altercation can be raging out of control. For some strange reason, at the very time things seem to be going well, these unexpected controversies erupt, tempers flare and angry charges spew venom on the very ones who have invested the most. I see it happen time and time again. A power struggle, a wounded ego, a perceived injustice or any one of a host of other unpredictables can touch off these clashes. And when anger-energy is unleashed, it wreaks havoc on good people and good plans with little conscience and even less concern about the damage it inflicts.
This is obviously not a new phenomenon. A couple thousand years ago, Jesus gave His close friends some remarkably contemporary counsel on how to deal with such situations. A farmer plants a field of wheat, His illustration goes. But during the night his enemy scatters weed-seed in the field. When the wheat springs up, so do all the weeds. The farm hands offer to weed out the "tares" but the farmer says "no" since too much wheat would be up-rooted in the process. He opts for allowing the good grain and noxious weeds to grow together until the harvest. Then he can separate wheat from weeds, harvesting the grain into the barns and throwing the weeds into piles to be burned. (Matt. 13:25-30)
The message is fairly straight-forward: it is better to lose face than to lose grain. Wherever good grain is beginning to grow, I can expect that weeds, too, will spring up. Investing time and effort in rooting out these destructive infiltrators of God's work is counter-productive. Too much damage will be done to the tender shoots in the process of ferreting out maligning rumors and false claims. And counter-attacking is not an approved Kingdom response. Better to suffer the indignity of diminished credibility than to lose the fruit of the harvest through disruptive, divisive witch hunts. The sorting-out process belongs to the Lord of the harvest. Once again, I am forced back to the basics of faith: can God be trusted with the outcome when our reputation is on the line?
I confess that the farm hands' solution has emotional appeal to me. A little "tearing up" would feel pretty good right now. But then, I'm not the one in charge of the harvest. And for that we should all be grateful!