A federal judge's ruling that an outreach to sex offenders violated the U.S. Fair Housing Act demonstrates the complexities churches and ministries face in serving "the least of these."

The case concerns Matthew 25 Ministries, which in 2008 leased a complex of duplexes and houses in Pahokee, Florida, to create a community of recovering sex offenders. One problem: A state law prohibits convicted sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a public-school bus stop.

Matthew 25 founder Dick Witherow first tried to persuade the school board to relocate the stop. When that failed, he tried to convince families with children to move.

Witherow said the company it leased the homes from, Alston Management, had agreed to relocate the families at no charge to another complex it owned. But according to court records, the company notified 25 families they would be evicted if they didn't leave by January 1, 2009.

The notices sparked lawsuits in state and federal courts. U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas ruled recently that both the ministry and Alston were guilty of discrimination on the basis of familial status.

Witherow said the ruling won't affect his ministry since Matthew 25 has no assets. "We didn't discriminate against anybody," he said. "We love children and wouldn't allow anything that would allow us to be put in that light."

Prison Fellowship vice president Pat Nolan said the situation is far broader than Matthew 25 or sex offenders, illustrating the difficulties any ministry that works with an unpopular constituency faces. "It's a 'not-in-my-backyard' problem."

Matthew 25 isn't alone in seeing a ministry hurt some while it helps others, said Galen Carey, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals. "Food aid ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

May
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
From Issue:
Read These Next
Also in this Issue
The Price of Religious Advocacy in D.C. Subscriber Access Only
More religious groups are spending more money on political lobbying than ever before.
RecommendedHow Single Women Became an Unstoppable Force in Bible Translation
How Single Women Became an Unstoppable Force in Bible Translation
Female missionaries have propelled the movement to bring Scripture to every tribe and tongue.
TrendingForgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
Forgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
Amid ISIS attacks, faithful response inspires Egyptian society.
Editor's PickThe March for Science Is Willing to Get Political. But Will It Welcome Religion?
The March for Science Is Willing to Get Political. But Will It Welcome Religion?
How evangelical scientists square their place in the global movement.
Christianity Today
Sex Offender Misstep Illustrates Outreach Difficulties
hide thisFebruary February

In the Magazine

February 2012

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.