Sunday, March 02, 2008

No Room for Eternity in California

Meet your friendly neighborhood minister. His name is Jim Nimmons and he lives in a city named, wait for it, Cathedral City, California. You will learn in a minute why that name is ironic at this point. You'll find the link to the NY Times story below at the bottom.

Jim's the pastor of First Southern Baptist Church and he's in a peck of trouble. In fact he's got an eternity's worth.

He has a small little church and he decided to paint the word 'eternity' on the roof of the church. Well, why not some would say, he's in the business of selling eternal life insurance and eternal fire prevention insurance isn't he?

But unfortunately various irate residents of the town have complained to the city fathers that Pastor Nimmons has placed 'a commercial advertising sign' on the roof of his building and there is a city ordinance against that.

So the city fathers of 'Cathedral City' want him to remove that sign from 'here to eternity', err, or wait remove 'eternity from church', or words to that effect.

Now it may be hard to believe but Jim has a congregation of 2,100 members, many of them no doubt stalwart members of that community of Cathedral City. But never mind that, Jim is threatened with not merely a nuisance citation but potential misdemeanor charges as well. That will look good on his resume.

Now here's the rub. Those complaints to the city fathers-- well they are all 'anonymous callers'. I learned a long time ago to simply ignore anonymous callers, or for that matter anonymous bloggers. If you aren't prepared to put your own name on the complaint or rant, then you don't have the courage of your convictions, and if you don't have the courage of your convictions, you should just do what my granny used to say with regularity--- "HUSH YO MOUTH".

If the city fathers had bothered to meditate on the history of their city, and why it was named Cathedral City in the first place they might have realized that the city was founded by people who cared about the Christian faith, and they still have a duty to protect that heritage.

But NOOOOOO. Instead they chose to cower before anonymous callers, 'lest they offend any one'. After all, the sign might be bad for business in town. It might lead to other signs in town like--- 'God loves you' or 'Have a blessed day' and other offensive remarks.

The issue here comes down to whether the message on the top of the church could be construed as a commercial one, or if it should be seen as a nuisance. Let's suppose for a minute it is considered a commercial one, say, on a par with a McDonald's sign.

Is anyone objecting to the fact that that McDonald's sign is huge, and is on late into the night? Well, no. What about the Pizza Hut, which has a sign on its roof? Well, no. We could go on. Now Pastor Jim's sign it does not glow in the dark, and as you can see, is not sticking up over the tree line or right beside the curb. Shoot, you can't even see this sign at night.

Now the press has turned to a lawyer (of course) to interpret this matter and put it in perspective. Here is what the article says about that---

"Douglas W. Kmiec, a professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University, said Mr. Nimmons’s position seemed more plausible (i.e. his view that it is not a commercial sign)

“I would think it would be a mistake to conclude the word ‘eternity’ is proposing a commercial transaction,” Mr. Kmiec said, “even if one hopes for salvation.”

This word just in--- salvation is not for sale in the Baptist Church in Cathedral City. It's available for free, which surely eliminates the word 'commercial' from the transaction. But naturally it looks like we are heading towards a court case.

Now one thing you need to know about the First Southern Baptist Church. It's not on any main road. Indeed, its on a dirt road well off the beaten track.

In order to get offended by this sign, you have to go out of your way! There's a grocery store and a Mexican restaurant near by that have signs on their roofs, but is anyone going after them and suing their pants off??? Anyone tossing burritos at the city fathers in protest for that sign on the Mexican restaurant?

Not so much. Hmmmm.

What did happen to the first amendment rights of free speech in Cathedral City any way? Wasn't Christianity one of the reason this town was named what its named in the first place?

Well Rev. Nimmons doesn't have the money to fight a court case, but he now has a lawyer thinking of taking it to federal court. I'm feeling better now--- our tax dollars being put to good use.

Meanwhile the Reverend say he can't pay the fine, but he is happy to go to jail for his message which he says "is worth standing up for".

You see if someone has everlasting life, what's a few days in jail for your message? I mean that puts you in St. Paul's company. Nice company.

Well, it sounds like Cathedral City is going to Hades right fast, but one place it does not sound like its going to--- You guessed it---- is ETERNITY.

Jesus may have had have something to say about this matter: " Woe unto you Chorazin! Woe unto you Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you were performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago...But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to Hades." (Lk. 10.13-15).

Seems like even cities do need to repent once and a while. How 'bout now Cathedral City?


Ray Fowler said...

I saw the same article, and I was wondering, how do you fit 2100 members inside that small church? Multiple multiple services?

Ben Witherington said...

Yeah I agree. Might be a typo for 210 perhaps.


mayoder said...

I thought that the 2100 might be a typo as well unless that is just a part of a much larger facility that can't be seen in the picture.

It did strike me as a little odd that such a sign on a church would cause such a huge uproar in the community. However, it would not surprise me quite as much if the anonymous people who complained were apart of the congregation who didn't like what was done. I am not saying they were mind you, I am just saying it wouldn't surprise me. I've been in churches that there have been big fights over stupid things and this in my opinion might fall into that category.

Michael said...

Who's the lawyer thinking of taking the case? Sounds like a winner. I don't see anything but injustice working here.

Bill said...

You should certainly be aware by things time that only Christians are capable of offending others!

Didn't Jesus say something along those lines?


Leslie said...

Well... that's pretty lame. Maybe the ACLU has begun to use satellite imagery to do their dirty work. They were searching google earth and found that ... thus all the anonymous calls. :P

D. Lynn said...

Bill has a very good point. I used Paul's teaching about offending the brother or sister to stop flying the Confederate flag. I don't find it offensive, but others do.

Additionally, 2100 members on a dirt road. Obviously Jim doesn't read church growth books.

Clever punning too, BW III

Michael Gilley said...


I agree with your insight. I come from the SB tradition and there's a running joke with that: If there's a First (Southern) Baptist church in a town then there's gotta be a Second cause somewhere along the line they split. I wouldn't be a bit surprised (and would just reckon it so) that those who called were from inside the church who didn't like the decision (since everything is voted on). That would explain the incognito nature of the calls. They all might also come from a close group or even the same family.

As for the 2100, this could be two things. First, SB churches tend to never delete records. Some churches have updated this recently but some older churches will still count people who haven't shown their faces in twenty years. This can add up. Secondly, the last church I served in had about 850 members show up on a weekly basis for services and we were running out of room. We had a very large sanctuary with balcony seating and six rows of pews on the floor. This is all with 2 worship services on Sunday morning. There is no way 2100 persons fit in that little church house in the picture on one day.

John Frye said...

Isn't it fascinating to see how silly some people get over words like "eternity"? And the town fathers cringing before anonymous callers...what's up with that?

I admire the pastor who's willing to go to jail over this.

J. Clark said...

Would this qualify as suffering for the faith or suffering for a constitutional amendment? Both, of course, are worthy to suffer for but I think there is a distinction.

Larry McCallister said...

We Christians want to believe in the rationality and fairness of the world so badly but the Apostle John soberly wrote, "We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one." (1Jn 5.19 ESV)

Priscilla said...

I am proud of my brother for standing up for a simple Biblical truth.

resident of cathedral city said...

I am not an anonymous resident of Cathedral City...

I simply don't appreciate any type of banner that reduces the property values in our neighborhood. This is not a small sign!!!! This is a huge ugly banner that covers the large and prominent roof of this church...

Would you want something like this next to your houses?

I don't have an issue with religion or religious messages, I have a problem with churches that don't respect their neighbors...

Other churches in Cathedral City embrace and respect their neighbors!!!!