Contributed by Ros Davies
Criticism of street pastors occasionally appears on the letters pages of local newspapers or online. Perhaps you’ve heard someone question the role of the street pastor, or even asked the questions yourself.
In this series of blogs I will tackle some of these negative comments. In answering them my hope is to allow these observations to tell us something about how we relate to each other and how, through the Street Pastors initiative, we might be able to find new ways to talk about responsibility, community and the Christian faith.
Critic no. 1: “I tend to regard them as well-meaning individuals, though more than a touch naive.”
One Street Pastors team that I know of uses the term ‘informed compassion’ as the opposite to naivety. ‘Informed compassion’ describes the attitude of street pastors to the streets and what goes on there. This means that through their training, experience and embeddedness in local infrastructures, street pastors strive to understand the needs of their community in a way that is not naive but is knowledgeable about local needs, cuts to services and local mindsets or cultures.
To some, non-judgemental care is naive because it doesn’t explicitly stop people from making mistakes. Some people are uncomfortable with showing kindness in the way that street pastors do because they feel that the care-giver must be being manipulated or taken advantage of some how. This can be true in our personal relationships as well, where the fear of being ‘used’ or taken for granted can make us defensive. We feel that we must make a person realise that they have stepped out of line: if they carry on doing this, it shows that they’ve got no respect for me, we think.
So perhaps unconditional kindness can be mistaken for ‘naivety’ because unconditional kindness to a stranger is counter-cultural. It is the kind of care that does not force an admission of guilt or bad judgement. The consequence – that it allows another person to live another day and party again the following weekend – will be inferred more than once by critics in this blog series.