When Love Thy Neighbor Becomes Illegal

A 90 year old man has garnered international attention for feeding the homeless, even though it is against the law.

arnold_abbott_feeding homelessAcross the nation more than fifty cities are passing laws against feeding the homeless for one reason or another. In New York city, they outlawed food donations to homeless shelters because the city can’t assess their salt, fat and fiber content. Other cities such as Ft Lauderdale, Florida are outlawing food distributions because they want to discourage the homeless from settling in places that tourists might see them.

Arnold Abbott has been feeding the homeless of Ft. Lauderdale since 1991. He has now been cited twice by police for violating a new city ordinance that makes it illegal for him to feed the hungry in the way he has done for more than 20 years. The World War II vet awarded with two purple hearts has been honoring the memory of his wife with his service, a memory of serving those in need.

The ordinance, passed Oct. 22, “regulates the activity in order to ensure it is carried out in an appropriate, organized, clean and healthy manner” and “permits indoor food distribution to take place at houses of worship throughout the city.”

Regulations are passed in the name of making things safer and more orderly. However, the real intention is usually to limit activity that is undesirable.

The ordinance limits where outdoor feeding sites can be located, requires permits, and says the groups must provide portable toilets, hand-washing stations and maintain the food at precisely prescribed temperatures.

In 2002, Arnold Abbott successfully sued the city to block an earlier effort to shut down the food distribution his nonprofit group Love Thy Neighbor conducted at a beachfront city park.

Arnold being aressted
He was first cited for violating Ordinance C-14-42 on Nov. 2 at Stranahan Park. As he and other volunteers began dishing out plates of hot food, Abbott said, “A policeman pulled my arm and said, ‘Drop that plate right now.’ Like it was a gun.”

He was cited again Wednesday in South Beach Park, this time after police stood by and watched him for 45 minutes as he served up chicken stew and cheesy potatoes to about 100 homeless men and women.

This week’s scripture reading (Genesis 18:1-Genesis 22:24) includes the stories of Abraham being visited by three angels whom he fed and gave rest and the account of the destruction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Lasha.

Believers will focus on the sexual sins of these communities and neglect the larger lessons of the spirit of Sodom and Gomorrah.

In Genesis 18, the Lord said that the outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah was indeed great. The outcry was for more than sexual sins. The bible gives many mentions of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah and many legends surround them as well.

These cities were blessed with great wealth as found earlier in Genesis, however, they were said to have refused to give charity to the poor and needy and to neglect justice and kindness to strangers.

There are many amusing anecdotes that should be taken with a grain of salt but still shed some light on the overall atmosphere of these cities.

It is said that petty theft was commonplace. Say a person what to build a house and bought some bricks, everyone in town would help themselves to a brick saying, “it is only one brick”. If someone put out some garlic or onion to dry, everyone would take some saying, “I have only taken one.”

The people of Sodom were certainly guilty of sexual immorality of various types. It is said they blasphemed God routinely. There also seemed to be unjust and ungodly rulings in the courts which allowed for violence, adultery and murder.

But one story reminds me of what is happening in cities such as Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah made it giving charity to the poor illegal. Once a maiden secretly gave some bread to a poor man, as the story goes, the matter became known. They tortured her to death with a cruel punishment. her cries rose to heaven and thus it is written, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great.”

How important is being hospitable and the showing of kindness to strangers? If any household did not receive the disciples of our Lord when He sent them out, He said, “Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgement than for that city.” Matthew 10:15

There is great danger in regulating the feeding of the poor. America should beware that we are creating a cold nation through laws and regulations that discourage the free exorcise of religion. That is why the founders put it in the constitution.

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Hebrews 13:2

Is America becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah? As sin and selfishness become greater so too is our risk of imitating those cities and receiving their due.

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  1. […] a church. This is similar to Ft Lauderdale, Florida to the south were they require a license to serve food to the […]

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