June 28, 2024

I am disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Grants Pass v. Johnson, which clears the way for onerous civil and criminal penalties for unsheltered neighbors forced to sleep in parks or on other public property. This could jeopardize the work of Lutheran ministries and organizations dedicated to helping people experiencing homelessness. As a church, we are called by God’s grace to love and serve the most vulnerable and marginalized neighbors in our communities.

Worshiping communities in the ELCA include people experiencing homelessness, which is not a moral failing; often it results from societal factors such as lack of affordable housing, stagnant wages and lack of affordable access to mental health services. Fining or imprisoning people without addressing these root causes drains public resources better directed at supportive housing services.

Criminalizing homelessness is misguided both ethically and pragmatically. As Christians, we are called to embrace marginalized neighbors with compassion, not punishment. Penalizing people for lacking adequate housing runs counter to our core tenets of justice and dignity. Christ himself had “nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58) and the prophet Isaiah urges the people of God to “bring the homeless poor into your house”(Isaiah 58:7). Criminalizing their circumstances compounds their suffering and diminishes their opportunities to find stability.

The ELCA upholds the dignity of all people, affirming in its 1990 social message “Homelessness: A Renewal of Commitment” that “God’s love in Jesus Christ … [moves] us to care for homeless people as God cares for all.”

I call on our elected leaders and public servants to implement solutions rooted in basic human rights. Rather than punish those without shelter, we need to support policies and investments in affordable housing, boost homelessness prevention resources, collaborate with ministries and expand supportive services.

As a church, we can:

  1. Learn and Engage: Let us educate ourselves about housing insecurity and about justice for the homeless. Visit the ELCA Homeless and Justice Network for more information.
  2. Pray: Let us use the ELCA’s Homeless and Justice Ministries dedicated devotional guide to pray for those affected by this decision and for our ministries that work to secure shelter for those in need.
  3. Speak Out: Let us review the ELCA World Hunger resource on housing and engage in activities to support effective policies, such as writing a letter to a local news outlet or speaking out at a town hall.

Criminalizing homelessness is an injustice we must reject. We remain committed to advocating for our unhoused neighbors.

In Christ,

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton

Presiding Bishop

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


To stand in solidarity with our neighbors experiencing homelessness and take action, please visit the action items below.

Federal-level policy: Urge Congress to Pass a Budget with Strong Homeless and Affordable Housing Programs

State-level policy in Pennsylvania: Let’s Build on What Works to Tackle PA’s Housing Crisis

One Comment

  1. Fred S Opalinski July 6, 2024 at 7:58 am - Reply

    Thanks for your reflection and call to action. SCOTUS is careening this country into oblivion.

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