Christians and Gentrification


What is Gentrification? It is a shift in an urban community toward wealthier residents and/or business and increasing property values. Typically the result of investment in a community by real estate development business, local government, or community activists, and can often spur economic development attract business, and lower crime rates. In addition to these potential benefits, gentrification can lead to population migration, which involves poorer residents being displaced by wealthier residents.

As with most subject, there are two sides. Here, you got the wealthier people invading, and then  the poor residents made to leave. Each side wants to criticize the other. But, the unrealized truth is, there are Christians on both sides. Rather than sling mud against other Christians for ruining the image of a community, we must ask ourselves if what you’re doing is a good representation of the kingdom of God? Also, this is not about whether the church is for or against gentrification. Rather, this is about the Christians who are in the midst of it.

There are two notable times when God’s people migrated. Once was from Egypt to the Promised Land. The second time was from the Promised Land to Exile – into Assyrian and Babylonian territory. The first was due to God’s grace, the second due to God’s wrath. Is it possible that a migration is due to godless behaviors? Unwise decisions? A wake up call?

OCCUPIERS

It’s understandable for a wealthy person to invest where they’ll make the highest returns with the lowest amount of risk. It’s understandable for a wealthy person to live where the economy is booming. There is nothing wrong with this at all. We all should make wise financial decision and be good stewards of the money, time, and resources God has graciously given us. Though, there is something to remember:
You’re life’s mission is not of prosperity but of God’s kingdom
I’m sure many of you are quite generous. You probably already give large donations to charity. And that’s a blessing! But, don’t spoil your generosity by taking what little the poor might have. Do what you can to maintain and increase the peace with your family members in Christ. The last thing you want is to create an economic division within the church you’re a part of.
When you’re making business decisions that will affect the lives of others (and I would say most if not all decisions affect someone somewhere somehow), here are several things to consider and keep in mind:
  • Are you abiding by the law? Are you being ethical? Not all unethical acts are illegal. Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right!
  • Keep your underprivileged brothers and sisters in Christ in mind. You don’t want your investments causing division, harm, or suffering.
  • Will your business decisions go against the character of God? Will it promote the kingdom of God? Or, is it selfish, seeking to promote your establishment?
  • Ask God whether you’re making the right choices, and to convict you if it’s against what he desires. Seek pastoral guidance. Do you have all affected parties in mind?
  • Will it proclaim life and liberty to the broken or further marginalize them?
  • Ultimately, would Jesus support or denounce your business decision? Think long and hard about this.
The displacement of people isn’t sinful. There are times in biblical history where God commissioned people to occupy a land and take it over. But many wonder about the morality of this issue. Is gentrification right? Again, here, I am not attempting to focus on this from a secular perspective but from the perspective of a follower of Jesus looking at the church – the community of Christ followers. All of them. No matter which denominational affiliation. If you’re a landowner, or moving into a place where this is happening due to job placement, or for whatever reason, I would suggest this before replacing the poor…
Get to know the people living there. Explore the neighborhood. Research their history. Don’t’ come as imperialists. Seek ways to help the poor who will be displaced. Help them find a comparable place to live. No, help them find a better place! What are some ways you could prevent the migration of the poor?
Don’t be so quick to establish and build your kingdom apart from God’s kingdom. Your resources are not your own. They’re for making God’s kingdom known. More than desiring to invest in the secular market, invest in the future of the kingdom. Investing in security, nearby rehabilitation services, and health & sport centers are a few examples of investing in the kingdom. Let your ventures serve as a conduit of good news – of hopes, dreams, and opportunities. Let God’s kingdom grow in the midst of a broken community.
Many may demonize you for your business decisions, but if you’re doing it under the guidance of the Spirit and your spiritual covering, and there’s no conviction, then by all means, continue to manage your finances wisely. Though, as a warning, Don’t get complacent and spiritually stagnant by the growth of wealth. Otherwise God will spit you out of his kingdom. Continue to invest wisely and give generously, and may God continue to bless you!
Envision what God’s kingdom could look like in the place you’re going into. Can you imagine and invest in a community where two worlds can live, work, and thrive together?

EXILES

Life isn’t always fair. We don’t get to choose where we are born or into what kind of family. In many ways, we didn’t totally contribute to the life we’re living. Instead, for the most part, the exterior world handed us the life we live. But, there is a new kind of world we can choose to live with, a world where things are more just. A place where people care, where they generously share their possessions, a place where there is no distinction of economic status, a place of togetherness and goodwill. This world is an emergence of a new world order in the midst of a world of disorder. It is the kingdom of God. And the people who live for it are known as the church. The church – the collective of Jesus followers – is that kind of community you can choose to belong, and move with and be cared for when devastating events occur.

Jesus was a homeless man. But not homeless in the sense of a beggar on the streets. He owned no house. He was constantly traveling and staying at people’s houses. He made his community – his followers – his home. He trusted that God would give him shelter and food. There was no need to worry. And so shouldn’t you. Don’t allow the community around your home make up your identity. Instead, let the community of God – the church – form your identity. If you’re uprooted, as it just might happen, remember that your home was a temporal place of residence. That community is not your home, the church is.
The decision to live as followers of Jesus doesn’t come with a promise of prosperity. Like Jesus, our life’s mission is not without sacrifice and rejection.
If your residence is affected by gentrification, don’t react. Don’t protest as anarchists, rioting and causing disturbances and destroying people’s property. Yes, engage in political action but do so peacefully. Don’t offend. Be at ease. Ask yourself, “am I the victim, or am I making the landlord a victim?” If your landlord is going against the law, report it. If you feel it’s not right, not fair, then go through the right channels and fight appropriately, lawfully, and peacefully. Represent the kingdom well in your efforts for change.
Though, I must caution…Don’t expect the market to meet your demands. Don’t expect laws to change immediately. You can’t seek justice and hope in a system that oppresses and destroys.
Remember though, if you are renting, it is not your property. You’re only given temporary residence. The owner has a right to do what it wants with it. They are only trying to make the best economic decision. And you’d do the same if it were your property. Try to see through their eyes. Attempting to prevent an owner from doing as they wish is selfish and thievery. It is sinful. Like Jesus’ parable of the vineyard, the tenants wanted the landowner’s property as their own so they protested, thinking that the landlord won’t do anything about it. But, eventually, the tenants will lose and the land given to someone who will better manage it and increase the return on investments. Don’t try to keep what’s not yours.
There’s a reason why, generally, owner-occupied residence vs. renter-occupied residence has lower crime, improved construction, better schools, and… It’s because they care for their community. If you want to try to prevent this hostile takeover of your part of town, take care of it as if you own it. Clean it up. Make it beautiful. Take pride in it. Join other non-profit organizations to restore your neighborhood by preventing visible waste, reporting crime, referring the homeless to rehabilitation centers. Be a good tenant. Renew your community. What are some ways you can revive your neighborhood?
How overwhelming I’m sure it is to be, in a sense, forced to move from what you call home. However, when these unfortunate events occur, don’t let it rob you of your joy in God. Remain faithful to God. Believe that God will sustain and strengthen you. When you feel lost and powerless, know that God is sovereign – he’s in control. You’re in his mighty yet comforting hands. God seldom prevents the storms of life, but he’ll help you endure it. Trials are times to test you. God wants to spur you, to move you from a state of complacency to a land of promise. So, don’t look back. Move on with God. You are his and he will guide you and provide. He has much better plans.

Conclusion

There is a better government that plays by better rules. A government that is more fair and compassionate. This government is the kingdom of God. As Christians, we’ve exchanged our citizenship of this world for the kingdom of God. We no longer abide by the world’s views and values. No matter what may be allowable under law, they don’t govern or direct our morality. We don’t conform to the patterns of this world, but the pattern of Jesus.
Jesus is more concerned about his kingdom than the kingdom of your city. Whether we like it or not, the identity of a city will change. Economies change, politics change, people change. Everything changes. When Jesus was ministering in the Jewish lands, he healed hurting people and foretold the destruction of the temple – their monument and landmark. Let’s not get too caught up with an image of a neighborhood and instead work on helping people who are in need. The identity of a neighborhood doesn’t need justice, oppressed people do!
The way of Jesus does something revolutionary for those who dare to tread his path…distinguishing lines disappear yet remain. Those lines that create division and place people into certain categories for judgment and condemnation fade away. There are no positions of privilege. Yet the lines remain for identifying a need. We no longer look at people for selfish purposes, out of jealousy, or judgment. We only look because we are looking out for each other. We desire to help, to care, to serve, to love. Let’s not make another person’s lifestyle our point of reference. If Jesus is our leader and king, rather than search for upgrades, we’d find ways to give away our possessions and downgrade. Refocus how and why you see those distinguishing lines.
“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”. Our mission is not in the American Dream. Instead, it is bringing glory to God wherever we go. It is this deep joy and satisfaction in God which helps us to see everything else as worthless. We begin to see the mission of prosperity as a mission of spiritual poverty. The world is a broken place in need of healing. And you are part of God’s great mission. Sent from his kingdom, you have been commissioned with a task – to speak God’s word and to do his work…where ever you find yourself living. It is in that place where the mission field is; it is there where God’s kingdom must be made manifest.
Love, community, generosity, service, peace, liberation, justice, and reconciliation – this is what we stand for. We are ambassadors and activists of God’s kingdom. Whether owner or tenant, each resident has a duty to the community it resides in – to prevent crime, to protect its people, to improve living conditions. Kingdom citizens must be great neighbors. Help the community become a better and loving place to live. Wherever you live, no matter for what reason, always represent the kingdom well. Allow the spirit of God to guide your paths, to strengthen you to walk in the way of our King, Jesus. And may the Spirit empower all of us to proclaim the liberating and restorative message of Jesus, and through our deeds, help create a better neighborhood, a better community, a better city.
Now, imagine what God’s kingdom could look like in the place you’re going into. Think about its potential and visualize how beautiful it could be. How are you going to contribute to the realization of God’s kingdom in the neighborhood you’re sent to?

 

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