“Or prohibiting the free exercise thereof .” Either San Bernardino City Councilwoman Wendy McCammack has forgotten these words or has chosen to ignore them, when she initiated the passing of an ultimatum to the First Church of the Nazarene, telling them, in essence, who they can and cannot minister to. Her statement, “If they think it is unconstitutional let them sue us, I’m not afraid of a lawsuit,” is to me the epitome of arrogance. The fact that Ms. McCammack and City Attorney James F. Penman think they have the right or even the authority to issue such an ultimatum to a church is unconscionable. Especially when the church in question has done nothing to warrant such action.
The chief of police, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and Child Protection Services all gave the church their approval that at no time is any child in danger on the church grounds with the presence of the individual who is registered as a sex offender, and the church itself has had 90 years of experience providing service to the community with ministries and outreach programs geared primarily to children.
Currently, with the charter school that is renting space from the church and the community center that is housed on the church grounds, the church is and has complied with all the safety regulations required by the San Bernardino Unified School District and with the San Bernardino park district. The “fear campaign” started by Mr. Penman and Ms. McCammack has resulted in the present mood of our city which has fostered discussions about getting rid of churches because we provided services to individuals such as the sex offender, the poor, the homeless, the marginalized and the disenfranchised.
Could you imagine a city without churches?
Ms. McCammack states that the city has a responsibility to protect the participants of Operation Phoenix programs. Did she or Mr. Penman think about the protection of the families in the charter school whom they scared by passing out fliers with the man’s picture on them when they arrived at school? Or when Mr. Penman attended a parent-teacher meeting that school held to address the concerns about the information on the flier and Mr. Penman summarily threatened them? Whom were they protecting then? How about the members of the Nazarene Church who will have to deal with the fallout from Ms. McCammack and Mr. Penman’s actions? Are they not participants of the city?
Did they bother to get their facts straight before they launched this fear campaign? Did they bother to let the people know that the offense happened when the gentlemen in question was 19 and now he’s 40, and since then has not had a similar conviction? Did they bother to let the people know that he has not lived in the community for over a month and that he never worked on the church staff, but as an independent contractor doing work on the weekends and never was a threat to any of the children? Did they bother to let the people know that this man did not try to hide his past but notified the pastor of his conviction the moment he began working and attending the church?
Someone once said “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.” Listen, we all live in glass houses, we all have things in our past that we would not want to be judged for today, and the message of the church and the gospel we preach is that you don’t have to live in your past, that if you genuinely want to change your life for the better that you have a savior who is Christ the Lord who died for the forgiveness of your sins and for the redemption of your soul.
Jesus says if you will come to me I will in no wise cast you out. Now, if God says we all are redeemable who I am to say one among us is not?
In effect, that is exactly what Ms. McCammack and Mr. Penman would say with this ultimatum. That the city has the right to determine, based on a partnership with a church, who is redeemable and who is not.
If this is the price that a church will have to pay for wanting to work with the city to help it become a more safe and peaceable place to live, as a pastor who has served this city for the past 18 years in partnership, I say the price is too high and I will not stand by and be threatened with ultimatums about who I can and cannot minister to, and I’m sure my parishioners - their constituents – will be glad to hear that the posture of their city attorney and 7th Ward councilwoman is one of antagonism and not cooperation.
I’m also sure Mr. Penman and Ms. McCammack would say to me that this is not directed at any church but the First Church of the Nazarene. But I say to threaten one of us is to threaten all of us. We as churches in this community cannot let this precedent be set, for surely this will create more problems for us in the future. Therefore, I will be contacting the churches in the city that we have come to work with about plans to address the City Council regarding this issue very soon!
Pastor Joshua Beckley is senior pastor of Ecclesia Christian Fellowship in San Bernardino.
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