The Texas Bohemian

Word artist. Jack of all Trades.

Telling on Godtel

I must be a horrible person!  Really, how can I put down a wonderful religious institution like Godtel?  They do so much good!  They feed and provide beds for homeless people.  It is true, too, they do.  They do a lot of “good.”  After reading page after page of their web blog it’s clear they get loads of support from the religious community.  Who am I to have sour grapes over such a wonderful place?

Well, you know, it goes like this.  What Godtel does is great as far as providing help for people who are willing and of a mind to fit into the religious atmosphere there.  But Godtel isn’t people helping people, it’s like-minded people helping like-minded people.

Everything on the Godtel website ooozes right wing Christian fundamentalism.  Everything about Godtel IS Christian fundamentalism.  Fundamentalism is the sap that sticks East Texas communities together.  It’s a sticky, gooey  mess that screws as much stuff up as it does bind “believers” together.

While I commend Godtel on the help they give I cannot help but step back and cast a sideways glance at some of the things they do and the attitudes they have.

I decided to write this post because of a little religious and political debate I’ve been having in our local paper with the guy who runs Godtel. (See above, Lufkin Daily News and Me!) In a letter he made a point to brag about the work he does there, how he helps the poor and homeless, and used his self-praise to take a stab at me, as in “what do YOU do that is good?”

The guy, Martin Baker, is no doubt sincere in his work.  A lot of people have found help at Godtel.  That is good.  A lot more have either walked away and stayed homeless or been cast out into the street because they refused to submit to Godtel’s religiously oriented rules.

In the last letter Baker bragged about not accepting government funds.  Of course not, he would be a hypocrite if he took federal money because he’s always blasting the “liberals” who have worked in government to divert a little bit of government funds away from the war machine in order to help the poor.  More important, however, is that Federal money comes with strings attached, strings that would bind up his religious rule book and shut down his proseletizing ways.  So Godtel trudges on, doing it’s self-righteous best to provide for the (chosen) poor of East Texas.

Baker is clearly dedicated to the right wing religious dogma he believes. It’s a screwy, wrong-headed, self-righteous kind of belief but what can I say? Nothing new there. There are those who say it is good for one to be sincere in their beliefs. I do not say that. It is not good for people to be sincere in beliefs that are damming, dangerous and just plain dumb.

Anyway, I pointed out to Baker in a letter carried by the News that Godtel is not so all-encompassing good as he says it is. His ministry does help some people but help comes with lots of strings attached. One must really toe the line if one is to get kind hearted help from Godtel.  I’ve been around Lufkin enough to have heard a bit about the place.

I Googled Godtel and discovered their website.  The website is a bit sparse.  It has a few ultra-conservative “tracts,” a few similar religious articles, some stuff for sale, some history and so forth.  The addresss is just godtel.org.  They have a blog site where they give regular updates.  I believe the updates are all written by Mrs. Baker.  Reading those updates reveal just how restricted their help really is. And they seem to be proud of their prejudices, too!  The link to that site is godtel.org/test.

I’ve tried but haven’t found a list of their “rules.”  I have found that people who get help from them are required to abide by some strict rules including mandatory Bible study and drug testing. As I read along on their posts it is clear their rules has little to do with safety and order and everything to do with moral standards and religious observance. Though at times they mention bending the rules or allowing people to stay that break them there are also plenty of instances where people are cast out for failing to keep them.

I know personally about a few of their rules. I had a friend a few years ago who was not religious and who would not stay there because of their rules and religious preaching. I’ve learned more recently that the rule about attendance at Bible study is so rigid that people are kicked out when they manage to find a job if work hours interfere with the Bible study. This is ridiculous. Isn’t the whole point of a homeless shelter to help homeless get on their feet? Restricting their ability to work seems stupid and counter productive.

The rule book includes drug testing too. People who test positive are kicked out, according to reports on their website. This, too, seems totally counter productive and unkind. As I wrote in a letter I sent in to the paper today, people with the greatest vices are often those with the greatest needs. Some drugs are gone from a person’s system in a matter of hours. Some, however, like Marijuana, take weeks to clear out. I can understand a rule preventing drug use in the shelter or even being stoned but a drug test is another thing. It’s a violation of privacy no person should be submitted to just to be given a place to sleep out of the rain.

There’s a particular instance I read about a poor man who died after being kicked out. Read the paragraph for yourself:

Dan (not his real name) checked into GODTEL January 2008. He was not a healthy man. Days passed and he regained his strength. He was attending Bible Study, a requirement for staying here. From time to time he would come into the office and ask questions about God and the Bible. He got well enough to get a job. Dan moved out. Things did not go well for him. He would come by and say he would be checking in again, but he didn’t. One day, in desperation, a friend brought Dan back to GODTEL. His health, once again, was in decline. Dan got another job. He worked the night shift. We found out that he was abusing his prescription medicines. We told him to stop. He continued in this behavior. Dan had to move out. That was a Friday. Sunday morning he was dead.  (http://www.godtel.org/test/)

“Dan” needed help.  What help did he get?  None.  Rather than helping the man the people at Godtel only tried shoving God down his throat.  There’s no mention of drug treatment or even any indication that the people at Godtel even knows how to deal with drug abuse.  The man was not even abusing illegal drugs, just his own prescriptions, which a doctor had to be providing.  What did Godtel do to help?  They told him to stop! Good grief.  When he didn’t they  kicked him out!

The article continues about how poor Dan might have made it but he just didn’t want to “give up his life to God.”  Right.  More like submit to drakonian rules and absurd morality dictated at Godtel.  The subject of Dead Dan ends this way: “We have a tiny bit of hope that sometime between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning that Dan decided to let Jesus carry his burdens, but we won’t know until we pass on to walk on those streets of gold ourselves.  We will miss him.”  Poor Dan, gone to hell.  We’ll miss him but, oh well….

The callousness of this story is apalling.  The paragraph or two that tells the story of  Dan are written matter-of-fact.  No compassion, no love, no forgiveness and no concern for the problems Dan faced.  What an example of “Christian love and compassion.”

Pages on the website are littered with statements like the following:

Our heart’s desire for each soul who comes through our door is for them to be convicted, touched by the Lord and say YES to Him.  We don’t know their hearts, but we can see the torn lives and situations that brought these hurting people to GODTEL.  By listening to Bible Study and reading, for themselves, God’s word, we pray that salvation and submission to our Lord will be the result and gift of their stay at GODTEL. (http://www.godtel.org/test/?paged=2)

Reading the pages I get the impression that the people at Godtel really believe something magical happens when someone “says yes to the Lord.”  They talk of “torn lives and situations” and “hurting people” but don’t seem to have much of a clue about how to really help them other than shove Jesus down their throat.  It’s sad, really.  Reading a book, holy or not, is not going to reach into the lives of broken, addicted, selfish people and turn them around.  There’s no magic.  Many times people never turn around.  It’s not our place as humans to force them to or reject them if they don’t.  It is our place to love them and do the best we can for them, no matter what.

How about this little tidbit:

A few residents were here twice this past month.  Second chances that were thrown away.  Do we want to have to test for alcohol and illegal drugs?  NO!  Do we want to have to tell people to leave because they did not hold up their end of the agreement?  NO!  This is not what we want, but then God doesn’t want His children to say no and disappoint Him, either.  Oh, how many times have I failed and disappointed my Father in heaven.  Forgiveness and mercy are great, but consequences always follow.  Phyllis was cleaning out one of the rooms and gathering clothes and personal belongings together when she came to the coat hanging up.  Phyllis took the coat off the hanger and found two empty beer cans in the pockets.  That woman will probably not be able to return if she needs our help in the future.  Another woman was waiting for a bed in a rehab center.  She decided to enjoy her last days of “freedom” and went out drinking several times before leaving.  I was told this information after she left.  Oh my”how that may effect her next stay at GODTEL. (http://www.godtel.org/test/?paged=2 March 8, 2008)

Isn’t it nice how the leadershsip at Godtel is so convinced they’re doing God’s bidding!  THEY don’t want to give drug tests or kick people out for breaking rules but God says they must!  I wish I could get such a direct connection to God!

“Forgiveness and mercy are great, but consequences always follow,” they say.  You can be sure, too, that forgiveness and mercy are not going to get in the way of those rules!

How about those “mercy fumes!”  A woman with kids was breaking the rules.  She had to be reminded to clean her room and throw away diapers.  While at Godtel she miscarried her third child.   “She was confident that we would not put her out because she had children, but we did.  She asked for another chance and so she was allowed to stay on mercy fumes.”  She had a little job and daycare but by george rules are rules!  Toss the poor woman out and when she begs let her back in on “mercy fumes.”  What are “mercy fumes” anyway?  The paragraph concludes by saying that (thank heaven!) the woman is gone and maybe some day she’ll appreciate the help she received at Godtel!

Those darned rules:

One woman with two children checked in, but didn’t stay.  It is amazing to me when people have “nowhere to go”.  They come to GODTEL.  They hear the rules when they are checked in then they leave and never come back.  However, it is better to hear the rules and leave than to check in and break the rules so you have to leave.

It’s better to sleep in a car than having Jesus shoved in your face, huh?  Watching people go away when they have nothing because they won’t abide by the rules seems a common thread in these posts.  I honestly don’t know how the people at Godtel can live with themselves!

I’ve made my point.  I think I have, anyway.  The point is that doing good is not always doing good.  Like the Venerable Dhammananda said in the book What Buddhists Believe, charity with the ulterior motive to convert is not true charity.  True charity gives with no motive other than a concern for others.

Godtel does “good.”  They help people.  But their motives are not to help the poor so much as it is to “win the lost.”  From beginning to end it’s all about “God and Jesus,” not human need.  Statements about how God will provide and give strength and so forth are hollow to people who are dragging bottom.  I wonder how many times the folks at Godtel are asked if God loves them why are they in such horrible conditions?  Why can’t they seem to kick habits even after making a “decision for Christ” or memorizing the Bible?  Why are their best efforts never enough?

I suppose I am able to see through the “good deed” Godtel and feel for those rejected or who turn away because of the rules and because they recognize how judgmental and condescending leadership at Godtel often is.  I know what it’s like to be on the bottom.  I know what it feels like to give best efforts over and over and still fail.  I understand how sometimes people just need an “I love you” without condition and the last thing they need is another shallow “Jesus Saves” message.

Today I sent another letter that will be taken the wrong way.  I’ll be blasted by Baker and probably talked about all around town as the hateful liberal.  How little they know about me!  I conclude by saying I’ll pitch in to help the poor and homeless with no strings attached and asked for others also willing to send me an email.  I bet nobody responds if the letter is printed.

I wish I could reach out and help every single hurting person.  I wish I could give food and shelter to every homeless, comfort to every addict, love to every unloved person.  Where I live and having no resources there’s nothing I can do.  All I can do for now is teach my kids the right way and look for an opportunity to open up.  I have given of myself in the past.  Maybe I will be able to in the future.  What I won’t ever do is put conditions on anything I might do.

Reading those Godtel posts sounds really strange.  They’re written in “Christianese,” a language I used to speak fluently but one that sounds so weird to me now.  It’ spooky to hear it.  What a different way of thinking!  It’s the mind set, the attitude, the religious brainwashing that makes Godtel what it is.  It could be so much more and do so much more if only the people there would stop looking down their noses at truth and the wonderful teaching of the Buddha.  They’d do much better if they’d only practice the unending love Jesus taught with no strings attached and stop pre-judging people by their willingness to “submit.”

I see so much of the old me in the words of Godtel’s website.  It makes me sad and sorry that I wasted so many years with such attitudes.  I can only hope I’ll get a chance to do something to make up for it.  I hope so.  someday.

April 12, 2009 - Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , , , ,

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