Persecution or Misunderstanding?

San Diego County ordered a pastor to stop his in-home Bible Study until he applies for the proper major-use permits. Some folks are up in arms about this "persecution" of Christians and even Fox News (featuring Carrie Prejean, no less) jumped on the bandwagon.

I want to urge a little restraint. Can we do a little more research before jumping to conclusions?

A reasonable explanation was given by the County (read HERE) but it's been drowned out in all the blogosphere noise.

On a personal note, as a Southern California resident, I'd like to offer my thoughts:

Southern California is a densely populated area. For this reason, there are many fire-safety codes, zoning regulations and parking restrictions.

If 15 cars showed up at the same time each week in my neighborhood, it would easily become a nuisance and safety issue. I would probably talk to my neighbors about it and if that failed, I would probably file a nuisance complaint.

In Pastor Jones' case, when the County inspector asked: "do you say Amen?" it was an attempt to determine if the Bible Study would qualify as a regularly scheduled religious meeting. Yes, it sounds like a strange line of questioning, but I really don't think it was an attempt to persecute Christians. And like it or not, there are rules here about how you can use your land.

That said, I think the County could have handled it better. They
bungled their investigation and as a result, have a major PR problem on
their hands.

As Americans we are guaranteed freedom of assembly. Does this mean we are free to assemble wherever we please no matter whom it affects? No. And as Christians, don't we have an even greater responsibility to proceed graciously, respectfully and mindfully in our neighborhoods and communities?

I think so.

  • Cara

    Thanks for this post, Elizabeth. I hadn’t heard about this controversy yet, but I also live in a heavily populated suburban area. I know that church gatherings can sometimes affect local neighborhoods in ways that don’t bless the neighbors, and I do think that we have to be careful and considerate as part of our witness. As part of our civic responsibility, too! I appreciate your balanced approach and the fact that you refrained from jumping onto the “Christian” side of the debate.

    But, yeah, it does sound like the county did a lame job of investigating. If I was the pastor, I might be tempted to be defensive too. And what’s with this line: “In April, Jones received a written warning for ‘unlawful use of land’ and was ordered to stop hosting his ‘religious assemblies.’”? Probably not the best way to word the warning, in my opinion. Could definitely be interpreted as some kind of bias against “religious assemblies.”

    By the way, you look like a total babe in your new sidebar pic! :) Love the earrings!

  • Smockity Frocks

    As long as the same restrictions apply to all birthday parties, poker nights, Mary Kay meetings, Bunco groups, etc. then I wouldn’t see it as persecution.

    The problem lies in the nature of the questions asked and that the claim changed from a “religious assembly” issue to a “parking and traffic” issue. (No parking or traffic issues were raised during the initial visit from the officer.)

    The pastor claims there are only 6 additional cars on the days of the Bible study.

    Here is where I’m reading my info:

    Sounds like persecution to me.

  • Elizabeth Esther

    Thanks for the link, Smockity. It’s good to know the issue has been resolved.

    It still doesn’t seem like persecution to me. But maybe that’s because our definitions of persecution are different. :)

  • Smockity Frocks

    I don’t think anyone is afraid of being fed to the lions, so in that way it is not persecution.

    The whole incident does give the impression that in-home Bible studies are subject to approval by the government, which seems an awful lot like how things are run in China, and I would say Christians are persecuted there.

    I don’t think anyone thinks our religious freedoms will be terminated sometime later this week, but it is definitely a liberty I treasure (We have a weekly Bible study in our home.) and being watchful and protective of our rights is the best way to keep them.

    Thanks for the discussion!

  • Elizabeth Esther

    Cara: thank you! The earrings? $10 @ Target! How cool is that? :)

  • destry

    I usually agree with you EE… on this issue, I disagree.

    The word “persecution” may be a bit strong, perhaps “unfairly targeted” may be a better phrase.

    Smockity touched on one important point…I am curious to know whether or not the city is enforcing the laws when the meeting in question is a weekly poker night, book club etc.

    We say “amen” every night in our home…even when we have company. How would the word “amen” be a deciding factor in whether or not the meetings are “religious assemblies”?

    If it is in fact a parking matter, it would seem that a letter from the city stating the parking codes would suffice…then the pastor could ask the visitors to carpool or rotate nights at different homes.

    It appears that these people were singled out for the nature of their meetings, not for the fact that they were violationg parking codes.

    Just my two cents…

    Another great post. Of all the blogs I read, I look forward to your updates the most

  • Dee

    Wow, sounds like the church meetings within the home are on target with which is spoken of in the book of Acts. The Lord will protect against fires, over-crowding, etc. I wish I was a part of this meeting that is over-crowded!! Kind of jealous that I don’t attend, if you know what I mean. :)