ASHEVILLE-BUNCOMBE COMMUNITY CHRISTIAN MINISTRIES. That was true when I first learned about them upon arriving at Covenant Community in 2006. It became even more true when I wrote a paper about them for one of my Doctor of Ministry classes in 2007. And then when I joined the board in 2009, I was blown away by the great things this ministry is doing, and the number of people they're helping.
For example: during the month of June, 1,575 lunches were served; 1,268 food bags were distributed; 55 households received help with utilities; 45 women, 10 children, and 218 men were given shelter; 588 persons received free medical or dental care; and 974 inmates attended Bible Studies.
And on the last Saturday of July, ABCCM trained me to be an ally in the OUR CIRCLE Young Parents Program. I'll be working with other allies to come alongside young parents and provide support and encouragement as they work their way out of poverty.
ABCCM also administers several job training and homeless reintegration programs through the US Department of Labor and the Veterans Administration. And for this we are now being sued.
A female veteran who stayed at the women's shelter for 20 months is charging that ABCCM discriminates against women in its programs for veterans. The complaint (lawsuit) alleges that women are not offered the same training opportunities as men; that male veterans are offered training in truck driving, culinary arts, hospitality management and green jobs, while female veterans are only offered classes in self-esteem, de-cluttering your room, Bible study, and knitting. A spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center, who filed the complaint, said that it looks like ABCCM is trying to prepare these female veterans to stay at home and be housewives.
As a member of the ABCCM board, I can assure you that these charges are not true. Simply put, all of the opportunities and classes available to male veterans are also available to female veterans.
I'm sure there's a good bit of misunderstanding going on. Some of these classes are run by AB Tech; others are run by the Department of Labor or the VA; some are based on grants from various foundations; some are taught by volunteers; and the truck driving school was run by a private business that used ABCCM's property.
Some of the charges in the lawsuit stem from confusion about how all these programs are administered. For example, the "soft skills" classes such as de-cluttering your room and crochet (not knitting!) that the lawsuit finds objectionable are not part of the Department of Labor/VA package. They are part of an overall program to help people make the transition from homeless to self-sufficient, but they are not considered job training. Many of these are taught by volunteers. And they're offered to men as well as to women.
I'm confident that ABCCM will survive this. What's absolutely breaking my heart is all the negative reaction I'm reading online. Online media outlets and blogs all over the country have picked up this story, and the reader comments have been overwhelmingly anti-ABCCM. Without looking into it at all, the people making comments are accusing ABCCM of all kinds of horrible things. Some have called for ABCCM to be shut down, or for their funding to be revoked. Nobody seems to be aware of, or care about, all the good that ABCCM has been doing for so many years. All the people they've helped.
Just like in the Chick-fil-A controversy, I've been amazed and heartbroken by the distortions ... the rush to judgment ... the jumping to unfounded conclusions ... and the venom. Oh, the venom. What has happened to civil discourse? What has happened to giving each side a fair hearing? What has happened to expressing your opinion with dignity and respect--and without foul language?
Dear reader, if you are a Christ follower, I hope you'll express your opinions in ways that reflect God's unconditional love and the inherent dignity of human beings--even the ones you disagree with.
And Lord, please help me to do the same.