The headlines I read a couple days ago said that county officials in San Diego were trying to prevent Pastor David Jones and his wife Mary from holding a Bible study in their home.
But that couldn’t be right. That sounds like the Christian Right’s distorted “I’m the victim! I’m the victim!” version of what happened. What was the real story?
Attorney Dean Broyles of The Western Center For Law & Policy was shocked with what happened to the pastor and his wife.
Broyles said, “The county asked, ‘Do you have a regular meeting in your home?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you say amen?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you pray?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you say praise the Lord?’ ‘Yes.'”
The county employee notified the couple that the small Bible study, with an average of 15 people attending, was in violation of County regulations, according to Broyles.
Broyles also said this case has broader implications.
“If the county thinks they can shut down groups of 10 or 15 Christians meeting in a home, what about people who meet regularly at home for poker night? What about people who meet for Tupperware parties? What about people who are meeting to watch baseball games on a regular basis and support the Chargers?” Broyles asked.
I’ll add: How is this different from a weekly book club meeting?
Again, that can’t be the whole story. If it is, I’m on this couple’s side. They have a right to Bible study. Hell, the ACLU would be on their side.
Then, I found out why the county was telling them to stop.
It had nothing to do with religion.
“This is a land issue,” [county Chief Administrative Officer Walt] Ekard stated, and not an issue of religious expression.
“I deeply regret that a routine code enforcement issue has transformed into a debate over religious freedom in San Diego County,” he said.
The county had received complaints from a neighbor about traffic and parking issues resulting from the weekly Bible studies, Ekard noted.
Pastor Jones believes the complaint was prompted when a Bible study member hit the car belonging to a neighbor’s visitor. Jones paid for the car damage.
I’d be pissed off if my car was damaged in my own neighborhood… but still, to complain about the Bible study as a cause for this? That seems unnecessary.
As do the questions asked of the couple. Why would the officer ask if the group was praying? Saying “Amen”? Praising the Lord?
Ekard is reviewing the officer’s actions and re-examining the policies and procedures the county uses “to deal with such complaints.”
If the officer is found to have acted inappropriately, Ekard said he will take action immediately.
It seems that the Joneses can continue holding the Bible study for the time being, until these issues are resolved.
Good. This is exactly what atheists should support: Private expression of religion, no tax exemptions, no proselytizing (at least no mention of it). Without more information, I’m not sure why some atheists are so adamant about this Bible study needing to be shut down.
I wonder, though: At what point should a house church be considered a full-blown church? Is it a matter of people or money or something else entirely?
(Thanks to Lexi for the link!)