You may have read my 5/15 post regarding Cambridge Drive Community Church's application for a permit to allow folk living in their vehicle to have safe parking in our parking lot. As I said before, the permit was granted and then appealed by some of the neighbors. Today was the appeal and the appeal was denied.
It wasn't my brightest moment though. As a few of our neighbors have spread misinformation regarding the program and others have implied that they have final say over the shape Cambridge Drive's ministry should take I have gotten more and more frustrated. When it came my turn to speak, I was more than a little frustrated. I began by sharing that we are not participating in this program because it is a good thing to do, although it is. Instead, we are fulfilling our call. I outlined the Hebrew scriptures' injunctions to welcome the stranger and to care for the poor. I followed up with the affirmation that Jesus was homeless and we dare not exclude folk who are just like him. I should have stopped there. I ended by saying that the neighbors have no say in how we fulfill our ministry. Those in the audience arguing against the permit did not take that statement well.
While my wording was more incendiary than it needed to be, I believe that. Baptists practice a regenerate church membership so that only the folk who are actually in touch with the leading of the Spirit have a say in the directions of the ministry of the church. I also believe that because of the Free Exercise clause of the 1st Amendment the city government has no say in how we fulfill our ministry. Yes, I know the courts have struggled with that clause since the 1870's when they ruled against polygamy and said that there was a difference between belief and action and that the state could restrict certain actions... In the 60's the Warren court established that a compelling interest must be demonstrated before the government can restrict religious practice but the definition of compelling has wavered through the years. Still, the scriptures are clear that if this is our calling we are obligated to fulfill our call rather than please our neighbors or obey civil authorities.
Of course, it is not that simple. CDCC has been a part of this neighborhood from its beginnings and has always sought to be hospitable to our neighbors. We have over 2 acres of "park" that our neighbors use for walking their dogs, for picnics, and as a shortcut through the neighborhood. We host recitals, concerts, 12 step programs, classes through the county adult ed programs, boyscouts, and senior citizens groups in our buildings... our properties are used, primarily by community folk, almost all of the time. We want to be friends with our neighbors. In this process we tried to listen to their concerns and to address those that were reasonable and correct those that were not while fulfilling the ministry to which we have been called. Our attempts did not allay the concerns of the most vocal and I have to admit, they hooked me.
The ruling today can also be appealed and I assume it will be so we'll face this again... I'll try to be a bit more temperate. One piece that has been positive through this is that a number of neighbors have reached out to voice support. A number who were against the program have changed their minds once they received accurate information. On we go...