How churches can serve those facing eviction during the pandemic

August 13, 2020

COVID-19 has affected the lives of all demographics in the United States, but as one might expect, it has disproportionately hit those living paycheck to paycheck. This becomes even more true when you focus on renters. While banks tend to be willing to work with homeowners who miss the occasional mortgage payment, landlords can often be less forgiving to renters, particularly landlords who are individuals, rather than large companies, who own only one or two properties, and are, understandably, heavily dependent on income from their properties. 

Experts have raised concerns that this reality could lead to thousands of low-income and out-of-work individuals and families facing eviction and ultimately homelessness in the coming weeks and months. In the following article, I want to explain the problem and help Christians see how we can minister to those suffering in this way. 

What is eviction?

The Eviction Lab at Princeton University defines eviction as “when a landlord expels people from property he or she owns. Evictions are landlord-initiated involuntary moves that happen to renters, whereas foreclosures are involuntary moves that happen to homeowners when a bank or other lending agency repossesses a home.”

Laws surrounding eviction are often abused and broken without consequence. Low-income women and victims of domestic violence are some of the most disproportionately affected demographics when it comes to illegal evictions, meaning they seldom have the means or resources to fight back against law-breaking landlords. When this happens, they often end up homeless, where they become incredibly vulnerable to violence, sexual assault, and even human trafficking

The CARES Act, passed by Congress earlier this year as federal relief during the pandemic, put a national ban on restrictions through late July. But even during the national eviction moratorium, thousands of evictions took place around the country, with Texas alone seeing hundreds over the last few months. Not only is this in itself problematic, but putting more individuals on the streets, particularly in dense cities, further hinders efforts to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

Not just an urban problem

While the sheer population density of urban areas make eviction a much more common problem in cities, the eviction crisis is not exclusively an urban issue. In predominantly rural Kentucky, for example, experts predict as many as 240,000 residents could be facing eviction, with half of Kentuckians losing at least some employment income since March. 

Because rural areas tend to lack resources like homeless shelters, rural victims of eviction can often have even fewer options than those in urban areas. Churches in all different geographies will see their neighbors hit, meaning all types of churches have an opportunity to respond.

What are some practical ways churches can help?

Take a rent relief offering

With no current federal protections, and many local and statewide rent freezes also set to expire in the coming weeks, thousands of renters around the country face potential homelessness if they can’t find a way to pay rent. Providing these individuals with the means to cover even one month’s rent will provide them valuable time to find further assistance and stay off the street. Churches can either seek these individuals and families out themselves, or partner with an organization like New Story that is meeting the rent payment needs of families across the country.

Beyond an issue-specific offering, churches can also get creative in fundraising by pulling from outreach budgets, marketing budgets, and other resources that have already been set aside for outreach and benevolence. 

Utilize your church property

Even before the coronavirus struck, FirstPres Hayward (Hayward, California) actually converted a portion of its property into six tiny homes meant to provide shelter for the homeless. The units provide those in need with the dignity of their own space while in transition, and the church works with each individual to make sure they have the means to secure stable housing by the time the 18-month transition period is over.

Another church in San Jose, California, has offered local homeless individuals the church address as their own personal mailing addresses. A permanent address is often required to sign up for government services that help individuals escape poverty or receive essential services. Providing said address is also a great opportunity to create frequent touch points with these individuals even if your church’s budget is already stretched too thin to help financially.

Start with your own flock

Particularly in larger church environments, it can be easy for at least some individuals to slip through the cracks. One way your church can serve in this area is to make sure every attendee of your church (formal member or otherwise) is accounted for. Whether this means contact cards, encouraging church leaders to play a more active role in door greeting, or even neighborhood canvassing in the area your church serves, there is no better time to act than the present, when churches are able to gather in many parts of the country.

In areas that do see a second lockdown, it will be increasingly difficult to reach those that are not already deeply involved in your church community. Such a lockdown would likely be what actually creates the kinds of economic conditions that would lead to such a dramatic spike in evictions across the country. Regardless of whether your region sees another lockdown, your church will be better off with more individuals plugged in and on the radar of church leadership. 

Why churches should help

In Psalm 72:12-14, Solomon declares that the Lord “will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.” As renters around the nation face both oppression and potential violence, the church has an opportunity to represent Jesus in ministering to their needs. The doctrine of the incarnation means that we serve a God who shows love through presence. And Christ’s earthly ministry was defined by drawing near to the poor and the suffering. 

As millions face the possibility of joining this demographic, ministering to such a widespread need is quickly becoming one of the most considerable mercy ministry opportunities in recent memory. If our call is to point others to the one who has gone to prepare a place for us in his Father’s house (John 14:2), what more tangible demonstration can we provide in declaring that the kingdom of God has come near than to provide a place for our neighbors during their time of need?  

Michael Natelli

Michael Natelli is a senior at the University of Missouri, pursuing his B.A. in Geography. He is also an intern at Trinity Community Church in Columbia, Missouri, and plans to pursue ministry. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24