A case of anti-Christian discrimination or oddly staunch zoning laws? This is the question at the center of a debate that is forming in Santa Ana, California, surrounding Mars Hill Orange County. The church, which is a wing of the Seattle-based house of worship run by Pastor Mark Driscoll, is in a battle with city officials over the location of its services. While the congregation is hoping to stay at its current location, local officials claim that zoning laws forbid it.
Allow me to explain the back story. Over the past six months, Mars Hill Orange County's Sunday worship services have been held in a rock concert hall -- one that exists in an area that the city deems a no church zone. Due to this fact, Santa Ana's building and planning department has issued the church an eviction notice, which could render its congregation homeless at any moment.
From the beginning, the church apparently knew that the agreement to hold its services in The Observatory, a venue that regularly houses music performances, wasn't permanent. Still, Driscoll and other leaders don't understand why the allowance to use the space cannot be continued -- especially considering that, for the past half year, the church has had a special contract with the venue's owners.
Driscoll has made his views on the matter clear, even wondering if anti-Christian bias is at play. Mars Hill has reportedly sought legal representation to ensure that they aren't "getting bullied by a political discriminatory agenda against Christianity and the church," The Christian Post reports.
"I honestly don't understand this because it's a concert venue and so it's a huge room where people come in, a band plays on the stage, and the place packs out with people. On Sunday, a band takes the stage and it fills up with people," Driscoll said in a video message posted on the church's web site. "They say we can no longer use the space. [However,] we don't have our children in there. They are actually in a separate building next door. It's not a parking problem. There's plenty of parking. It's not a traffic problem. It's Sunday, lots of accessibility, no issues whatsoever. So, we're not exactly sure what the problem is. The truth is we've been asking a lot of questions and we are not getting a lot of answers."
Watch Driscoll's video, which includes a call to prayer for congregants and supporters, below:
While the church is looking into the legalities associated with the situation, Jay Trevino, Santa Ana's executive director of Planning and Building Agency, denies any biases. Trevino told the Post that the city would love to see Mars Hill stay in town, but that the church needs to follow the same rules as other houses of worship.
"What they are doing is conducting a church under our zoning ordinance. Churches aren't allowed in that zoning district, but are allowed in many other zoning districts," he said. "Santa Ana embraces religious institutions of all types. In fact, about two-thirds of our zoning districts allow churches. The city staff has gone above and beyond to help Mars Hill in finding locations, including contacting a perspective landlord on Mars Hill's behalf."
While Pastor Nick Bogardus says the church has been helpful in the past, he is frustrated by the pressure that has been put on Mars Hill to exit the premises. Meanwhile, the church has grown monumentally from 200 members to 600 and a space to continue worship is much-needed. Despite the challenges, Bogardus remains optimistic.
"If they throw us out we'll worship Jesus in a park or on the beach," he proclaimed.
(H/T: The Christian Post)