The Common Good
January 2009

Welcoming the Stranger: Illegal?

by Rose Marie Berger, Amy Spaulding | January 2009

In Brookville, Pennsylvania, a dispute over laws has shaken the otherwise quiet community.

In Brookville, Pennsylvania, a dispute over laws has shaken the otherwise quiet community. Jack Wisor, pastor at First Apostles Doctrine Church, told Sojourners that “the law I’m following is the teachings in the Bible” as he allows homeless people to stay in his parsonage. But city council attorney Stephen French took the pastor to court for housing the needy in a commercial district. “I personally think the work [Wisor] does is wonderful,” French told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “but we’re not going to allow someone to violate the zoning laws because they do it in the name of Jesus Christ.”

Thus far the dispute has led to a court hearing with one more scheduled, a $500 fine for the church, and accusations mounting on both sides, according to the Post-Gazette. “Right beside our church, 20 feet away, is an apartment where people live,” Wisor told Sojourners. “It is a subtle interpretation of zoning. We need to put our efforts toward helping people and not fighting against municipalities.”

Alternately, in September, a federal judge in Orlando, Florida, ruled that it was illegal for the city of Orlando to block groups from feeding the hungry and homeless in a local park because it “violates activists’ basic civil rights,” according to the Orlando Sentinel. The First Vagabonds Church of God, Orlando Food Not Bombs, and individual advocates for the homeless sued the city after police shut down their food distribution center.

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