“Are We Our Brothers’ Keeper” 1998

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” The words of Cain have been the source of countless jokes and countless sermons in the several millennia since they were first recorded. But they popped into my mind several weeks ago as I sat in the City Council Chambers in Ventura and listened to the members of the City Council and the city staff discuss whose responsibility it was to help provide winter shelter for homeless persons.

For eight out of the last nine years, the state of California has made the National Guard Armories available as winter shelters for homeless people. A year ago they decided it was not their responsibility.

For the last nine years, the County of Ventura worked with the nonprofit community to provide emergency winter shelter for homeless people. This year they have decided it isn’t their responsibility.

For at least the last six years (and I believe longer, but I cannot verify it) the City of Ventura has provided funds to help provide emergency winter shelter for homeless people. In the last month they decided it isn’t their responsibility.

All of these people will tell you that they are concerned for the needs of homeless people, but they can’t afford to help and, besides, it isn’t their responsibility.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” We need to remember that the first person who asked that question was guilty of murdering his brother. He asked the question, not to discover his responsibility, but to cover his guilt.

Few of us who are debating whose responsibility it is to provide shelter to homeless people will have to spend a night out of doors this winter. “Are we our brothers’ keeper?”

(Reprinted from pages 33-34, Rheto-Rick-ally Speaking: Celebrating 30 Years of Service by Project Understanding, by Rick Pearson. Rev. Pearson is the pastor at North Oxnard United Methodist Church.)