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Tennessee faith leaders demand care, not criminalization of the homeless
June 3, 2022

Criminalizing homelessness is the antithesis of the gospel of Christ

NASHVILLE, TN -- As the cost of housing skyrockets across the state, making affordable housing an impossibility for millions, the Tennessee State Legislature sent a bill to Governor Lee's desk that would criminalize homelessness by making sleeping in public a felony. This morning, a group of faith leaders gathered outside Governor Lee's office to pray and deliver a letter signed by over 300 pastors and Christian organizations across the state demanding that homelessness not be criminalized.

Rev Lindsey Krinks, Co-founder and Director of Education at Open Table Nashville, read from Isaiah 10 saying, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, who deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning?” She also called on Governor Lee to live up to his campaign promises of criminal justice reform and said all that the current legislation does is turn struggling Tennesseans into criminals.

Rev. Dr. Kevin Riggs, Pastor of Franklin Community Church, led a prayer lamenting that as a state we have chosen criminalizing the homeless over dealing with the root causes of a lack of affordable housing. “Please God, we ask you to open up Governor Lee’s eyes and heart,” prayed Rev. Dr. Riggs, “We pray that Your Spirit would lead him to make the right decision and to veto this oppressive law. As the prophet Isaiah said, ‘woe to those who make oppressive laws.' And this is highly oppressive, to criminalize people who have no place to go, who are homeless, without helping those who are without homes. So we are calling on Governor Lee to follow You and follow Your Word.”

The letter from faith leaders reads in part, “We are called by God to ‘love our neighbors’ (Mark 12:31), to ‘defend the rights of the poor’ (Proverbs 31:9), and to ‘do justice and love mercy’ (Micah 6:8). SB1610/HB978, however, tramples on the rights of the poor and further entrenches people in unjust cycles of criminalization and poverty. [...] Isaiah 58:7 calls us to 'provide the poor wanderer with shelter,’ but no district in Tennessee currently has sufficient and accessible housing and shelter beds for those in need [...] Governor Lee, we are asking you to not turn away from our neighbors in need. Poverty is not a criminal issue–it’s an economic one. Instead of trying to address homelessness with handcuffs, we must bolster our state-wide homeless outreach services and ensure that everyone has adequate pathways into housing.”


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-After a debate citing Hitler, bill penalizing homelessness passes Tennessee legislature

About Southern Christian Coalition
The Southern Christian Coalition is a nonpartisan grassroots, ecumenical organization. Across the South, politicians use ideology in the guise of Christian theology to push policies that harm our communities and isolate us from our neighbors. We are a community of Christians, speaking up on the values of our faith.

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