Security state mentality afflicts Christian neighborhood charity

Gil Shropshire talks with about Bethlehem Center's imprisonment behind a fence. (Photo

Gil Shropshire talks with about Bethlehem Center’s self-imprisonment behind a fence. (Photo

By David Tulis

Bethlehem Center is a charity and neighborhood center that has been pestered by young men who cavort on its grounds and sometimes intimidate patrons. The board, seeking to address what it sees as a pattern of trouble and harassment, is opting for a national economy solution to a local economy problem.

The private center on West 38th Street converted itself into a prison, with a steel fence running along the edge of its property, with outward-aiming concertina wire rows along the top.

[This essay first appeared at, your local news and information site. — DJT]

The fence was no slight option for the board of the United Methodist Neighborhood Centers Inc., which operates the nearly 100-year-old group serving families in inner-city Alton Park and South Chattanooga.

It cost F$16,000 and takes funds from other programs that focus on character and education.

“The Beth’s education programs,” the group says on its website, “seek to cause dramatic, positive changes in the lives of children trapped in situations of poverty, illiteracy, violence, substance abuse, and hopelessness that are no fault of their own.”

David Meredith, the interim executive director, says the fence was put up to help “protect the youth, and keep rambunctious teens away,” as a TV3 report put it. “Meredith says The Bethlehem Center called a communitywide meeting, but only one person showed up.”

The board intends that children and people inside will “always be safe and be protected from anything that may possibly happen to them,” Mr. Meredith says.

This statement of triple emphasis suggests the board has taken upon itself a duty it cannot possibly fulfill. Can a Christian charity isolate itself from the effects of the fall, from the petty dope dealing and bullying that youth are wont to engage in on its perimeter or near its doors? Can it insulate itself from the effects of welfarism and poverty in its district, where most homes are below the official poverty line and a third of the homes run by single women? Mr. Meredith’s statement is full of good intention toward Beth patrons. But does it send the wrong message about the gospel of grace, about public safety and private security?

The fence raises the ire of neighbors such as Gil Shropshire because it is, as the reporter puts it, an eyesore. But it’s more than just ugly. It suggests the board has absorbed the total security mantra of the modern police state, with its tall cop cars, giant prison complexes and elevated courtroom benches. The fence suggests a loss of hope in local economy solutions, in personal solutions and interaction with the commoners whom are deemed the risky and dangerous ones.

— David Tulis appears 9 to 11 a.m. on AM 1240 Hot News Talk Radio, covering local economy and free markets in Chattanooga and beyond.

Source: Josh Rhoden, “New fence surrounding The Bethlehem Center raises concerns,” July 30, 2015.

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