(Click title for story referred to in this post) Depending on your perspective, this church has done the dumbest thing in the world or done the only possibly right thing in the world in offering childcare for the 14 kids of Nadya Suleman.
Right off the bat this church has modeled a great principle of mercy ministry: Regardless of how you got to where you are, we are to love you in tangible ways that cost us. But this is where wisdom and mercy have to be wedded together. By giving an "in-kind" donation to Ms. Suleman the church has wisely navigated around a possible sucking vortex: mom has some real problems with finances, priorities, entitlement thinking, over-dependence, out of touch thinking. By giving to a tangible need rather than giving dollars to what might seem by some estimates to be a $2.5 million sinkhole, they have me one need without feeding possible idolatries and addictions.
This is the second principle of mercy we see at work: Some help is actually worse than no help at all. (Don't get me started on the President's stimulus package.) The Law of love in both Testaments requires us to see to it that there is food and clothing given to those whose needs come to our attention. Flat screeens, crack, alcohol, and vacations are not needs contrary to our culture of decadant spending and "everybody is an addict" approach to those who struggle. Giving cash will sometimes fuel the ongoing addiction to this spending and self-medicating.
Recently we have faced needs in our church around Christmas time. The mercy ministry provided grocery cards and avoided making sure there was "something under the tree." The celebration of Christmas as our culture celebrates is a huge exercise in missing the point. The Church can give at Christmas in the spirit of Saint Nicholas (the original being a pastor/bishop) and Christ without tempting people to go with the flow of our spendthrift culture during the "holidays."
One interesting thing that comes out in the article is that Ms. Suleman said she had attended this church in the past and that the older kids enjoyed going. A cynic would say that she is trying to look like she is not just on the handout trail and wants to do what is healthy and right for her kids in the spiritual arena. One thing that our deacons and elders have decided to do in light of the "drive by" calls for aid is to request that people attend worship with us and we can talk with them afterward. We are the Body of Christ and we do extend arms and hands of mercy. We also want people to understand that we are more than an agency. We are the agency of Christ which says (1 Cor. 5): be reconciled to God. God has made us firstfuits of a new creation so that we could be ambassadors to those who are trapped by all the entropic forces of the old creation: greed, lust, idolatry, self-sufficiency, rebellion. When they come to church they hear us confess together in various forms "and such were some of us". (1 Cor. 6.11) They hear our story (we are the redeemed covenant people of God), they get to hear the New Creation story of Christ making all things new (which is in every single book of the Bible if you look at it through the lens of Christ), and then we can hear their story of how Christ needs to make them new (all the gritty details of who, when, how much, etc)
Stories of great need and opportunity like this one will be more and more prevalent as we see our culture cut from the moorings of covenant marriage for life and live on what you make We have great opportunities to touch broken people. We have tough challenges to sift through with all the resources of Biblical wisdom and gifted tenderhearted members of the Body of Christ.