Let’s talk about the Strib’s Katherine Kersten’s latest column “The future of downtown is threatened by beggars.”
Columnists have relative freedom on the subjects they wish to comment on. Sometimes they express their views not so much in explicitly stated opinions, but in the stories they focus on or the people they interview.
It’s quite obvious from the tone and subject matter in this column that Kersten is sympathetic to the view of people who want to remove beggars from downtown Minneapolis. You can tell because she talks to specific people with this view (Sam Grabarski, Paul Ostrow, and George Kelling) and presents their statements. She doesn’t talk to people with a different view: she merely calls them “opponents.” You can also tell the writer's view with word choice: in Kersten's column, beggars "accost" people, try to "extort money;" other people are "harassed" by beggars, and "feel captive to importuning beggars." Homeless beggars are the threat in such word choice, and non-homeless people--the people Kersten is obviously sympathetic to in this column--are the victims.
We can assume that the ideas she’s presenting, then, are hers, even if somebody else is actually providing the ideas. She’s the one talking to these people and writing a column about what they say: she’s making the choice to present this viewpoint.
Now, one can expect a conservative columnist to condemn beggars and homeless people, and to put the interests of the use of downtown by the affluent and middle class above those of a poor beggar. In Kersten's column, panhandlers are a "nuisance" and threaten "the quality of life" of downtown (quality of life for people who aren't homeless beggars, obviously--I'm not sure Kersten cares about their quality of life at all). But Kersten is also a writer that frequently champions the cause of religion in social issues and human life (at least, she seems to here, here, here, here, and here. Well, at least Christianity--she's not quite so pleased with Muslim practice in public life, as you can see here or here).
As a columnist so interested in the interests of Christianity in society, I wonder if she’s familiar with Jesus’s statements on poor people?
In the gospels, Jesus repeated tells listeners to give to the poor, to help the needy, to not turn away from those that ask of you. Again and again, he tells us that the godly help the poor. Somebody asks you for something? Give it to him or her. Would Jesus tell us that the beggars should be removed from a downtown area for any reason? Would Jesus recommend stricter laws to remove beggars from public areas? How would Jesus respond to this?:
“In Minneapolis, a recent survey confirmed that panhandlers often use donations to buy drugs and alcohol, says Ostrow. Giving to them might seem compassionate, he says, but it frequently just encourages self-destructive behavior.”
I don’t recall Jesus saying “If a beggar asks for money, don’t give it to him because he might use it for drugs or alcohol.” Jesus didn’t put qualifiers on anything: he said that if poor people ask anything of you, you should give. He told many parables about helping the needy among us. He never qualified. He commanded we help the poor. He never talked about being "accosted" or "harassed" by beggars; he never suggested beggars "extort" from you or make you feel unjustly "captive."
Katherine Kersten, do you agree with what Jesus said, that we should give to beggars? Or do you agree with laws to remove this “nuisance”? Do you think Jesus was telling us the truth when he told us the poor are blessed or criticized those who ignore the needs of the poor? Or do you agree with “the proposed rules [that] would ban panhandling at night, along with verbal solicitation of money within 10 feet of a crosswalk, where people feel captive to importuning beggars”?
In "John Donne the Divine and Mundane," Yoshiko Fujito says of John Donne, a brilliant poet and also an Anglican preacher, "Donne's violent dislike of beggars and vagabonds is well known [...] His eyes were always directed toward the upper stratum of society, nobility, and Court. Conversely he violently disliked beggars and vagabonds [...] This attitude may appear to clash with Christian teachings, but shows his absorption in himself..."