An official with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) says he's willing to go to jail, if necessary, to oppose a new city ordinance meant to reduce the number of homeless people congregating on the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Las Vegas City Council recently passed an ordinance banning anyone from providing food or means to the indigent for free or for a small fee in the city's parks. Supporters said the ordinance was needed to stop mobile soup kitchens from operating, due to the large crowds they tend to attract, and the unsafe and unsanitary conditions some local residents feel such food programs create.
Wiley Drake is second vice president of the SBC and pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, California, where he oversees a ministry for the homeless at his church. Although busy enough in his own area, he says he is prepared to travel to Las Vegas to protest that city's new ordinance, which he says threatens "to absolutely stop the Christian ministries that have a 'feeding ministry.'"
Most faith-based outreaches are not what are commonly known as social ministries, but are simply trying to serve and show love to people in need, "just like our little church," Drake contends. "We have a homeless shelter," he notes, "and we have homeless people here. But we have more than 300 decisions for Christ every year."
For Christians, the minister points out, helping to meet the needs of others is not only a biblical mandate; it is also an opportunity for believers to present the gospel of Christ in a hands-on way. "I assure you that if they're feeding people, clothing people, helping 'the poor and homeless,' that's a great opportunity to win people to Jesus," he says.
The Las Vegas' city ordinance prohibiting the feeding of the homeless in parks has prompted a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Drake hesitates to side with that group, but he concurs that the city would have a hard time enforcing this measure.
"I hate to agree with them," the California pastor says, "but the ACLU is right; it'll never hold up." However, he emphasizes, the outcome of this battle probably largely "depends on what's going to happen" with those Las Vegas-area ministries that would be affected by the ordinance. "There are some feeding places there," the SBC leader notes. "A couple of our Southern Baptist churches are doing it."
Pastor Drake is passionate about helping the needy and has even been threatened with arrest in the past for allowing the homeless to sleep at his church. He says he is ready and willing to risk being jailed now, if need be, by traveling to Nevada to protest an ordinance that makes it illegal for caring people to feed the hungry in Vegas parks.
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