“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Matthew 23:23
I became aware of the Triune Mercy Center years ago, well before The Weight of Mercy was published. After hearing about its ministry among the homeless and prostitutes and drug addicts, I assumed it was another social service organization. At best (I deduced), it attached Jesus’ name to its ministry and loosely held to select Biblical principles. At worst, it ignored gospel truths for a worldly emphasis on love and acceptance.
I now see how wrong I was. Reverend Deb Richardson-Moore has not persevered in her job at Triune to do social work, but to serve and lead a church that is made up of both underprivileged and affluent Christians.
Throughout this captivating story, I saw how the Triune Mercy Center, fueled by the faith of Reverend Moore, changed lives and honored Jesus in how they combined Biblical truths and wisdom in ministry. Also, while she humbly admits her mistakes and struggles, she never shied away from calling her parishioners to action.
Biblical Truth and Ministry Wisdom
I assumed that Reverend Moore attracted her downtrodden parishioners through a message of unconditional love. But while she did preach that God accepts everyone, she also clearly communicated that God changes lives.
“I’m not saying you can’t be a Christian and a drug addict, but let’s not kid ourselves that you’re living in a way that’s pleasing to God.” (p. 193)
Compared to our previous work in Allendale (SC), Triune’s ministry is in many ways similar. When working with those in poverty, one doesn’t want to facilitate dependence. Helping the less-fortunate must go beyond just giving them money and helping them fill out a job application. Meaningful assistance should lead in the direction of long-term sustainability.
Short-term relief may be provided, but any assistance must be met with action steps, however small. The one receiving help must show that they want to have long-term change, no matter what the cost.
“How do you help someone who doesn’t want to be helped?” (p.135)
Moore was clear that her calling was to work with the poor. But she was faced with one factor that trumped many of her initial efforts – their addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. She explains,
“I wanted to be an activist pastor, advocating for the poor. But I feared that when addiction entered the mix, the old model didn’t hold up.” (p. 130)
“Alcohol and drugs are great equalizers.” (p. 246)
“When addiction enters the picture, the playing field shifts. I don’t think we can pretend addicts are no different from anyone else and just keep giving and giving and giving.” (p. 249)
Triune wanted to help people out of addiction, not make them more comfortable in it. Of course, that’s easier said than done, and Moore is not hesitant to explain the struggles she experienced trying to find this balance.
Humble Struggles and Bold Action
While I never rarely want to see someone struggle, I was personally encouraged by how Reverend Moore shares her struggles and doubts, especially at the outset of her ministry.
First, she had to put aside her own sense of self and status.
“For a long time, I had worried about people liking me. I no longer cared. Liking me wasn’t going to get anybody out of addiction or homelessness. Liking me wasn’t going to bring about the saving power of the gospel.” (p. 106)
Second, her authentic revelations can encourage any of us that have questioned our own ministries. At the outset, she thought that lasting a year in that job would be a miracle, and even as she continued on, she regularly asked, “Are we doing the right thing?”
“What I worry about most is we’re going through all this trouble, using all this energy, asking for all these resources. And we may be doing more harm than good.” (p. 130)
Despite her constant hesitations and doubts, she never wavered in her pursuit of love and truth. And she calls others to the same active pursuits. Jesus came for two purposes: to preach truth, and to lay down His life as a sacrifice. And Christians are to follow His model in both of these things.
“Being a Christian means obedience to Christ. It means taking up our crosses to follow him. That meant getting off drugs. That meant radical love of our neighbor. That meant all sorts of transformational possibilities.” (p. 72)
In acceptance and love there must be action and accountability. And with action and accountability, there must be a deep love.
“In the messiness of living and loving together, sometimes we compromise. And sometimes we demand.” (p.249)
As I finished reading this book, I concluded that our culture has few saints like Reverend Moore. She combines humility with expectancy. She has a gentle spirit, and yet boldly preaches truths about Jesus and personal responsibility. She welcomes with a hug, and confronts with sharp rebukes.
The Weight of Mercy chronicles the first few years of Moore’s journey as “a novice pastor on the city streets.” Initially, she called her congregation to welcome strangers, but by the end, she understood that she was the stranger that was welcomed by others. The homeless and the addicts invited her into their lives and their community.
Reverend Moore is a different person than the one who first walked through Triune’s doors in 2005. And after reading her story, I am changed, too.
“Life among the poor doesn’t have to be gloomy or despairing. You see, God lives among us, too.” (p. 226)