The street is complex and is full of some of the most independent thinkers in the U.S. And the homeless I have known have mostly been the chronic homeless based in the Northwest. Thus, I cannot write a comprehensive theology of the street in the U.S. However, since such a project hasn’t come into being, I offer a few observational notes to begin the thinking of some motivated student of sociology or theology.
The Basic Theological Split:
There is a split on the street about God and spirituality. Some feel that God has rejected them, even as they feel rejected by the middle class church. For these, God is a non-entity, a reality that is not practical. Because all issues on the street are practical, about survival, then the unbelievers just don’t see God as being a part of their reality. They don’t usually mind that God is significant in other’s reality, but they don’t focus on God or spirituality themselves at all.
However, a large percentage (impossible to determine) of those on the street are deeply concerned with God and spirituality. They see God as being a part of their everyday lives and significant. Most of these are deeply committed to Jesus. The rest of the observations describe the spirituality of these God-focused street people.
About God’s truth:
True theology isn’t systematized—The real principles of God can’t be written in a book, or understood by words. God is best understood in the heart, not the mind.
Theology is based on the Bible—The Bible is used simply, without scholarship, and occasionally some passages are discarded. But spiritual reality must be based on Scripture. All we know about God and Jesus and the spirit world is based on the Bible.
Theology is personal—Although based on the Bible, theology is something one understands because God has revealed it to one. God speaks His truth and His moral code to each person in their heart.
Theology is practical and moral—That which we know about God is real because we live it, not because we talk about it. God helps the poor, so we thank Him when He provides. God helps the poor, so that is what we do as well—provide for those in greater need than ourselves. If we did not do something about our beliefs, they would not be real beliefs at all.
Theology is radical— Any spiritual principle is taken to the greatest degree, without regard to social conventions, laws or personal well-being. One’s spirituality and ethic code takes precedence before all other concerns.
God is loving—God sees all the frailties and sins of the lowly and forgives them.
God provides—God is the one who provides food and shelter to the poor. When the hungry are desperate, He provides food. When the alcoholic needs money for a beer, God provides it.
God is angry at the church—Should Jesus come to earth today, he would be cleansing the church. The church is full of hypocrisy. Especially the church will be judged for rejecting the poor and outcast.
God judges— God places a moral code within the hearts of each person, and if anyone acts against the moral code, God will judge them. This judgment could be a calamity that happens to a person immediately after an immoral act, or it might wait until after death.
Sins of the street—Homosexuality, not helping someone in need, adultery (cheating on one’s spouse or boy/girlfriend), abuse of the lowly (especially women and children), stealing from the poor, attacking without provocation, abuse of the dead, disrespect of a church, abortion,
Middle class sins that are winked at—Alcohol/drug use, defending oneself violently, disrespect to authority (especially police), defecating in public places, crude language, not keeping appointments, having a place to live, killing oneself through lifestyle.
Deep Regrets: Self abuse (such as drug abuse, cutting, suicide attempts), uncontrolled harm of a woman or child, not being able to financially support one’s children,
Religious practice is not centered in a church—Religious practice is mostly personal and is not connected primarily with a church. Thus, attending church services or participating in religious community is rarely a part of the street person’s religious practice.
Moral acts that can be spiritual—Recycling, dumpster diving, defending the helpless, serving a church through cleaning up, picking up litter off the street, providing food to the hungry, offering a cigarette or a beer to those who have none, participating in religious ritual (Lord’s supper, saying the Lord’s prayer, kissing a cross, etc.).
Prayer is a powerful act—Requesting a boon of God must be done with respect and is taken very seriously. Thus, it is done rarely, only in times of dire need. It is also deeply personal, something done when stirred by deep emotion and usually done alone.