The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) has announced it will be appealing the court case of New Harvest Christian Fellowship (NHCF) located in Salinas, California after a Judge ordered it shut down because it didn’t fit in.
NHCF has been operating a church on the city’s main street for over 25 years and in 2018, the church bought a larger building because its growing congregation no longer fit in its previously rented facility.
The city took the Church to court demanding it be shut down because it did not fit in to the vibe that the city council was trying to build for the city’s main street. It wants a pedestrian-friendly environment along its main street full of shops and entertainment facilities.
The city would only allow the church to continue if it held services on the second floor of the building, instead of the main floor.
In a court case over this dispute, the Judge ruled in the city’s favour stating that it did not fit the vibe the city was trying to create and did not stimulate “commercial activity with the city’s downtown.”
However, PJI stated it will appeal the case to the Ninth Circuit where it believes it will finally get justice because governments are not allowed to discriminate against churches through zoning laws.
Speaking on behalf of PJI, Chief Counsel Kevin Snider said:
“Salinas deems churches as less deserving of equal treatment under the law than the live children’s theatre, two cinemas, and event center that share the City’s downtown corridor with New Harvest Fellowship.”
In its news release, PJI also added:
“… that the city’s insistence that it must have only fun, tourist-friendly, and tax-generating entities downtown was undermined by its allowance of nursing homes and post offices. The court waved off this discrepancy.”
However, this wasn’t the first time, that Christians have run into problems because they didn’t financially fit in.
In Acts 19, we have an account of what happened during the early days of the church in Ephesus. The city was home to a major pagan temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis and there was booming trade built around this temple that included the sale of magic books and touristy idols dedicated to Artemis.
Many of the buildings/idols associated with Artemis had strange magical lettering on them, and books were printed explaining these writings and the power they had.
When God began to move, this resulted in the believers in the city burning their books associated with Artemis. Luke said that they burned books worth an estimated 50,000 pieces of silver (Acts 19:17-20).
But not only did this result in the destruction of these personally owned items, it also meant that believers would no longer be purchasing items associated with Artemis. The growing church was now having a direct financial impact on those who had built their business around Artemis.
We read what happened next:
23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there.
25 He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”
28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:23-28 NIV)
They essentially started a riot and the idol business owners dragged the Apostle Paul and his associates to the city’s theatre probably in an effort to have him publicly tried. However, calmer heads prevailed and said if they wanted Paul and associates removed from the city, they needed to take the Christians to a proper court. It does not appear this ever happened, and the Apostle Paul eventually left Ephesus on his missionary travels.
Yet despite this the Ephesus church continued to thrive. But the incident may explain why there are several passages dedicated to spiritual warfare in a letter that Paul wrote to the Ephesian church:
- We war not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12);
- Why we need spiritual armour (Ephesians 6:10-18).