It reads like something out of a dystopian novel about the end times. A government agent, cloaked in a hooded sweatshirt and concealing a video camera, slips into a coffee bar one Sunday morning. He makes an attempt to blend in with the people gathered there. He films in secrecy, jotting down notes he will later share with his superiors.
I was able to visualize, in my opinion, what appeared to be a ministry in progress.
I observed people holding what appeared to be Bibles or religious books as one had a cross on it.
I was approached by an unknown man with a cross around his neck.
Unfortunately, this didn’t happen in the pages of a book and it didn’t happen in some fascist country where Christianity has been declared illegal. It happened in Lake Worth, Florida, where city officials seem to have a problem with the churches in their community.
At the heart of the controversy are Pastor Mike Olive’s weekly religious services, held at the Common Ground Coffee Bar. Last month, the owners of the establishment received a notice informing them that they did not have the permits to operate as a place of worship. Instead of city officials merely contacting Olive and explaining the situation, they engaged in subterfuge, sending a code enforcement officer into the services as if attempting to expose a terror cell.
“I think it’s very important that people are not afraid to practice that faith – whatever that faith is,” the pastor told a local news station.
Olive’s Sunday meetings are not the only ones being targeted by the city. Several churches have been sent notices telling them that they are required to procure business licenses if they want to stay in compliance with the Lake Worth zoning laws. City Manager Mike Bornstein plays the whole issue off as a big misunderstanding, telling Florida’s CBS12 that it was all classification, compliance, and bureaucratic streamlining. Once zoning officials took over for the fire department on the matter of church licensing enforcement, they made efforts to simplify the process. Nothing sinister at all.
Mat Staver, the founder of Liberty Counsel, disagrees. “Government employees are public servants and prohibited by the Constitution from inhibiting religious freedom. That is a far cry from sneaking around and into a church and acting like KGB agents.” The lawyer is demanding that Lake Worth officials rescind the mandate that churches obtain business licenses.
Disturbing stuff. Christian churches used to be regarded as the moral center of our communities. Now they are looked at through a lens of mistrust. Within their walls, things are said that do not mesh well with the liberal agenda. Moral relativity is not tolerated. Abortion is not celebrated. Some churches are more progressive than others, but most house beliefs that have been absent from the mainstream for many years.
Maybe it’s all just codes and classifications and misunderstandings. Maybe that’s all it is.
Or maybe we are seeing the first hints of a very dark time for American Christians.