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A few months ago, I addressed the cases of Bible Studies under fire, including that of Michael Salman, a pastor in Arizona who was put in jail for, according to him, holding Bible studies.  However, as time went on, we found out that the real reason this convicted felon was jailed was because, like a convicted felon, he flouted the zoning rules and broke laws with wild abandon.  Now we’re finding out that Salman broke more laws and is up for more felony jail time for Medicaid Fraud.

Now comes word that another family, this time in Florida, is being fined for their Bible Study.  This case seems a little different at first glance.  Shane and Marlen Roessiger have been holding a Bible Study on Friday nights at their home with 10 participants, posted a small sign outside their home offering a phone number for prayer, and now have been issued fines of $250 per day for their zoning violations.  Obviously, it’s a case of the eeeeeeevil government again, right?

Well…  hold up, kids.

1.  The “victim” in this case is not a random person.  His name is one Shane W. Roessiger and his wife Marlene (I’ve seen it spelled differently), and he has a history of clashes with the law over religious issues.  That’s not to say that the law is always right, but when you have a history, it gives more credit to those who say you are currently in violation of the law.

2.  The neighborhood he lives in is a crowded, dense neighborhood.  Even adding 5-6 cars for 10-12 people could cause major traffic headaches for people driving on the streets, especially on a regular basis on a busy Friday evening.

3.  Take a look at this picture of his home from Google Street View.  See the big honking cross he has in his front yard?  Yeah, well…   that’s not the problem.  The problem is that he’s posted a small sign in his front yard that advertises a dial-a-prayer phone number.  The problem is that while the city ordinances are OK with real estate and political signs, any and all other signs are verboten.  So you can’t even post a “puppies for sale” sign in your yard, by law.

So…  what’s happened here?  Well here’s what I’m seeing:

  • A dedicated, well-meaning, but aggressive young man starts a home-based ministry.  While he has a history of clashes with the law, he doesn’t appear to be of the “convicted felon” mode of Michael Salman.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here.
  • Traffic increases on a regular basis, and while the occasional party would be OK, regular traffic problems cause issues for neighbors.  They ask for help, but get none, and so they go to the city.
  • The man puts up a small sign in his yard in violation of local ordinance.
  • The city works with the Bible study, offering them ways to mitigate the issue, but are met with defiance.
  • After repeated attempts to address the issue, the city issues fines.
  • The man, still aggressive and defiant, takes his case to the interwebs and the news media.

Again, we get back to the “vacuum of neighborliness” I mentioned in my previous article, where someone could’ve been a better neighbor, but wasn’t, deciding that it was more important to hold your ground on holding Bible studies than to communicate Godly love to those who live next door to you.  It’s not a government conspiracy – it’s simply a matter of people needing to be good neighbors and show Christian love while they’re supposedly teaching Christian theology, and maybe a little bit of a badly written local sign ordinance.  And let’s be honest: if the government really wanted to crack down on religion, it wouldn’t start with a single homeowner and zoning regs.

That’s why, again, I’m going to post my 7 Rules of Not Being a Jerk About Your Bible Study.  Take heed (again), people:

  1. Hosting a Bible Study in your home is a good thing.  Our faith is a critical element of who we are as people, and strengthening that faith through study and fellowship is a wonderful part of growth.
  2. Not being a jerk about your Bible Study is an equally good thing.  Just because we have a responsibility to share our faith doesn’t mean we have a right to be a jerk about it.
  3. If you’re going to host a Bible Study in your home, be a good neighbor to those around you.  Love your neighbor as yourself by being pleasant about your Bible Study.  Just because you think you have the constitutional right to have a Bible Study doesn’t take away your neighbors’ rights to live in peace.
  4. Try to keep your Bible Study size appropriate for your neighborhood.  If you’ve got a 3-bed 1,500 sq ft house in the burbs and you’re hosting 50 people…  you may want to break up into smaller groups.  That way, you limit the amount of traffic on the road and keep transportation around your neighborhood moving smoothly.  You also have less risk of someone ticking off your neighbors by blocking them in their driveways, damaging their lawn, or creating too much noise.
  5. Keep lines of communication open between yourself and your neighbors.  Let them know what’s going on and when – and keep to the schedule.  If you say it’s going to be from 7-9 pm, don’t hold things over until 9:30.  Make sure your neighbors have your phone number so that they can contact you if there’s a problem.  If they do contact you with a problem: address the problem.  And invite your neighbors (and don’t get offended if they say no).  Don’t ruin a relationship with someone you share a fenceline with because you’re got a bug up your butt.
  6. If you’re holding weekly services with chairs, flyers, a pulpit and a website, you’re a church.  Act like one by providing a safe, friendly environment for worshiping God.  If that means that you’re going to have to move your activities to a more public location, then do so.  Trust God to provide through offerings, donations, etc.
  7. Finally, and most importantly: don’t be a jerk.  I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating.  If a neighbor calls you to complain that there’s too much traffic and noise, then listen to them and try to work with them.  If the city shows up and says that you need to have clearly marked exit doors, then go down to Lowe’s or Home Depot and pick up some exit signs.  If the city tells you that the structure you’re in is unsafe for the crowd you’re drawing, then by all means, find another structure or split into smaller groups.  If you’re going to represent Jesus to people, then act like He would.

Where I Was…

I was at work.  An e-mail came in from my boss that one of the World Trade Center buildings was on fire.  I chalked it up to “OK…  it’s on fire…  I hope they get it out and the people are OK.”

Then we got a second e-mail that there was a fire in the second building.  “Odd,” I thought.  I figured the fire had spread.

Then I went to fix some computers at a department we supported.  There, I learned the Pentagon was now on fire and that it was caused by planes, possibly deliberately crashed by terrorists into all 3 structures.

Then we heard about the 4th plane.  And I knew we were at war.

I had to do some work across town and walked into the building where a group of people were gathered around the TV watching the events.  I noticed it was a similar shot to what had been on TV when I’d left the office earlier, but something was missing.  “Where’s the World Trade Center?” I asked.

“It’s gone,” said a co-worker.

“Oh Lord…” I said.

Later that day, I went to our website and, without permission, created links to the American Red Cross for donations and links to blood donations.  My direct supervisor chastised me for doing so without consulting anyone, but I stood my ground: the links would stay for the next 3 months.  I couldn’t do much, but that much I could do.

And remember.  I will never forget what happened, the monsters that did it, what was destroyed, who we lost, and most importantly, Who we turned to in the recovery.

May God Bless America.  May God forgive us.  May God restore us.

Paul Ryan has been tapped for the Vice Presidency by Mitt Romney, making him the first House member since Geraldine Ferraro to be tapped (and the first GOP House member since Barry Goldwater tapped William Miller back in 1964.

Yep.  It’s done.  And to tell the truth, I’m not overly shocked.  For the record, back in April, I said this:

Paul Ryan: more recent speculation has popped up as he’s become the darling of the economic conservatives and Tea Party folks. Nominating Ryan would solidify the conservative base behind Romney, but he’s not going to deliver any electoral votes. Plus, I think the GOP likes him right where he is: annoying Democrats in the House. Keep him off-list unless the economy turns sharply south. Otherwise, a top 5 candidate.

And guess what?  Indicators are showing that the economy is likely headed into recession next year. Then, one month ago, I put Ryan at #7 on my list (updated from the list I posted here):

7. Paul Ryan (WI)
I put this here mostly to satisfy a few conservatives who think he’s the greatest guy in the universe. And he’s a great guy. He’s also a representative, and putting him up for the Veep risks taking him out of his powerful position in Congress – and losing that position to the Democrats in a potential Obama year. Not likely.

I’m willing to eat a little crow on this one, mostly because I really like Ryan.  And while I think it’s a bit of a dangerous move, it’s certainly a classic move.

  1. It sharply balances the ticket.  Ryan is a strong, strong conservative (91.69 ACU rating) in comparison to Romney’s middle-ground stand.
  2. It turns this into an election that will be about the economy.  Romney’s a businessman.  Ryan’s an economics powerhouse.  Boom – you’ve just made the election about Obama’s record as President.
  3. Ryan has consistently been a thorn in Obama’s shoe.  He’s continued to present strong budget options in contrast to Obama’s work.
  4. He’s been shown to be aggressive in going after pet programs on a bipartisan stage, being willing to go after entitlement programs and the military, meaning he’s a fearless attack dog.
  5. Ryan is not an evangelical.  He’s Catholic.  By nominating a Catholic, that means that the Catholic vote may now be in play.
  6. Wisconsin’s may have just become a battleground state.
  7. By selecting a man from a farm state, it enhances Romney’s chances in Iowa, Minnesota, and Ohio.  That’s critical in an election year when many farmers are struggling with the massive midwest drought.

I’ll have more commentary as time goes on.  And maybe pictures.

OK, I’m getting sick of this.  There’s a ton of people passing around the following picture that are about to get a slappin’ by ye olde Annoyed Elephant:

Seriously…   what’s wrong with you people?  Christians are among the most generous people on the planet.  They give and give and give to food banks, homeless shelters, and individuals in need on a near-constant basis, giving billions of dollars every year out of their own pockets to combat poverty and hunger, not only in America, but around the world.  On top of that, Chick-Fil-A mandates that its franchises also give to local charities and people in need.

And yet, socially-minded folks are lining up to point out how evil some Christians were for spending $7 at Chick-Fil-A to support a man who shares their family values.  As if it’s an either-or scenario where we either help the poor or support Chick-Fil-A, and ne’er the twain shall meet.  As if, somehow, because of all the people who ate at Chick-Fil-A on Wednesday to support Truett Cathy’s freedom of conscience regarding his Biblical morals will somehow erase decades of “success” in the war on poverty.

Get off your high horse, people.  Eat your damned chicken sandwich.

If a business does something I don’t approve of, I simply stop shopping there.  For instance, Citgo is owned by Hugo Chavez, communist dictator of Venezuela, and because I consider Hugo to be a gigantic douche, I don’t get gas as Ctigo.  Ever.  If my friends ask me, I’ll tell them why I avoid Citgo.  They may agree and stop shopping there, they may not.  It’s all good because we’re all individuals capable of making adult decisions and I don’t pick my friends and colleagues based on politics – and those friends I have who do disagree with me tend to be adult enough to realize this.

So, this leads to the question: why the war on Chick-Fil-A?

First, let’s get this clear: Chick-Fil-A the company was founded by a Christian man whose values have driven his business model.  The employees are typically extremely friendly to customers, the restaurants are very considerate towards families in both design and menu offerings, and they’re closed on Sunday (a point which has annoyed me often when I’ve had a mis-timed craving).  The founder of Chick-Fil-A, S. Truett Cathy, continues to promote his personal values.  So what’s the problem?

I'm shocked!  Shocked, I tell you!

I’m shocked! Shocked, I tell you!

Well, shockingly to some, this man – who’s fostered over 200 kids, attends church every Sunday, and continues to teach Sunday School classes in his 90’s, doesn’t like gay marriage.  His business doesn’t discriminate against gays, they don’t refuse to serve gay people, they don’t put pictures of the Chick-Fil-A cows holding signs that say “God Hats Homoos” on their marquees.  It’s simply that Truett doesn’t think gay behavior is right and doesn’t support gay marriage.  Now, what would an adult do about this shocking revelation?

  • Option 1: Realize that we’re talking about a 91 year old Christian man and get on with life, applauding his works you agree with, and occasionally stopping by Chick-Fil-A for their delicious sandwiches.
  • Option 2: Disagree with Mr. Cathy and send the company a letter expressing your discontent with his position, but accepting the fact that Chick-Fil-A probably isn’t going to be putting out an Anti-Gay Kids Meal any time soon.
  • Option 3: Perform a personal boycott of Mr. Cathy’s businesses.  Be content in your personal sacrifice, but sad that you’re missing out on their delicious chicken.
  • Option 4: Perform same boycott, but mention to friends that they may want to join you.   Send a letter to the company stating your reasons for boycotting.
  • Option 5: Demonize a 91-year-old man whose values you never agreed with and use the force of government to exert the force of your will, not only upon the business whose founder has beliefs you don’t agree with, but on the potential employees of said business.  Plus, hold gay kiss-in events at Chick-Fil-A so that the people who eat their lunch there will feel totally weird about it and not eat there, forcing Chick-Fil-A to serve people who held their kiss-ins, except that they already totally do serve gay people at Chick-Fil-A, which means you’re just doing it for show.  Besides, people who don’t agree with your political views don’t deserve the same freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment that good progressives do.

Normal people would choose 1-4.  Sadly, a ton of retards are choosing 5, getting the likes of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Chicago Mayor and Obama associate Rahm Emanuel to try to push Chick-Fil-A out of their respective cities, a fascistic move that’s even set off the free expression alarm at the incredibly liberal Boston Globe, Chicago Sun-Times, and NPR.

The ultimate in irony is that while Rahm Emanuel was pushing against Chick-Fil-A for Cathy’s support of traditional marriage, he was also welcoming Louis Farrakhan to Chicago, who not only opposes gay marriage, but also openly and proudly hates Jewish people like…  Rahm Emanuel.

The pro-family groups have organized today, August 1, as a Chick-Fil-A appreciation day, and have encouraged people to go by and grab a sammich.  Personally, I disagree with this.  I think that a better approach is simply to eat mor chikin.  Don’t limit it to a single day – go support the businesses who support your values on a regular basis.  Show them your support by becoming a regular customer.  Go buy a sammich today…  and then another tomorrow…  and then another a few days from now.  Sure, you’ll get fat, but it’ll be delicious and you’ll be giving your support to a business whose values are the same values found in Scripture.

That’s my take.

I’m still in shock at the senseless violence that’s occurred in Aurora, Colorado.  My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those affected and with the family of the shooter, who seem to be in as much shock as the rest of us.

As the events unfold, rest assured that someone will be there to blame conservatives and shamelessly politicize this tragedy.  Heck, if that doesn’t work, they’ll blame the movie for the event.

Here’s the truth: some people do evil things for reasons beyond politics, and those who blame violent entertainment for violence are usually ill-equipped to answer how nice movies didn’t prevent the violence.  Most importantly, beyond all our political fooferall, there are people who desperately need our love and prayer right now.  Maybe we should be focusing on them.

Just sayin’.

The Authorities Have Been Contacted

The Authorities Have Been Contacted

OK, first, read this story about an Arizona Bible Study guy who’s going to jail because of his Bible Study.

Now read this one about a California couple that was fined for their Bible Study.

It’s a war, right?  Surely, it’s a sign that there’s evil afoot and a war on Christianity and it’s time for us all to get to arms to defend the rights of these gentle-hearted, innocent people who just want to read the Bible and learn about Jesus, right?

Not right.

A lot of my friends and colleagues have brought the first case to my attention over the past few days with the wide-eyed expression awaiting the obvious shock and dismay I must feel at this obvious encroachment by the government upon the rights of the church…    that never comes.  See, while I am of the strong opinion that there is a war on my faith being conducted by secularists and other people who want to use the government to evangelize us all into atheism, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the case in either of these cases.

Both of these cases share a few common points:

  1. A family decides to hold a home-based Bible Study.
  2. Said Bible Study gets really popular and a lot of people (usually between 25-50) start showing up on a regular basis.
  3. The authorities show up citing something about zoning and public safety.
  4. The family decides eventually to go to the media to fight their war.
  5. Fines and/or jail time plus public outrage ensues.

Simple enough, except that there’s a few points missing, most importantly, between #2 and #3.  This is a spot that I like to call “the vacuum of neighborliness”, where neighborliness should have existed, but instead, we get a gigantic hole in the story.  So, let’s fill that hole with the clues we have, namely: the number of people showing up.  25-50 people typically means you’re getting between 10 and 20 additional cars in your neighborhood, creating traffic congestion, noise, and crowding.  In a rural area, this isn’t really a problem, but in an urban area, this causes major issues for other people who live in the neighborhood, not to mention the ability for emergency vehicles to navigate the area. And so, someone called code enforcement.

I’ve known some code enforcement folks in my time and the general gist I’ve gotten from them is that they really, really don’t want to stir up trouble.  Their lives are happier if they don’t have to play the bureaucratic ombudsman for neighbors who aren’t talking to each other anymore, and they would really rather just let things go.  Typically, this means that people get inspected.  Someone usually tries to contact them informally to see if the issue can be resolved.  If it can’t, then they go to  warning letters.  Then repeat letters.  They try to work with the person in question to see if adaptations can be made to the property to allow them to legally continue their venture.  It goes on and on until it’s obvious that someone’s just being a jerk about the whole mess and that’s when fines start going out.  And I’m willing to bet some reasonably good money that this is exactly what happened in California. The end result there was that the homeowners worked it out with the city and all was well.

In Phoenix, not so much.

What we actually have here is the case of a convicted felon – one Michael Salman, who’d served 6 years for shooting up people’s homes and who tried to bribe a state attorney on the matter.  He was sentenced to 6 years in prison back in 1993 for the crimes.  In 1996, according to his website, 3 years into his sentence, he was ordained by the COGIC and began his ministry, and ended up hosting what he called a Bible Study in his home in the early 2000’s.  Said study would have anywhere from 40-80 people, depending on whether or not people were getting baptized or not.  All the problems actually began back in 2007 when Salman applied to the city for a 2,000 expansion to his “game room”.  It was approved, so long as said expansion wasn’t used for any business or church-related activities due to zoning and safety requirements like fire exits, accessible bathrooms, etc.  By the time it was done, said game room didn’t include much in the way of games, but did include chairs, a podium, a pulpit, and a sign with the name of the church.

In other words: he lied to the city to get his expansion approved without having to meet the standards for a public building like a church.

In 2008, after getting am $18,000 fine issued for safety violations, he was granted the right to label his home as a church by inspectors.  This saved him tax money, but now he has to actually meet the standards for a church building, including safety regulations.  If 40-80 people are going to gather, then  you’re going to have to address issues like emergency exits, bathrooms, and parking.  Salman hasn’t done so.  The City has been fighting him for over 5 years and now he’s getting sent back to his home from the early 90’s to think about what he did.

Is it reasonable for a city to do this?  Well, let me ask you this: would you be OK with me building a structure in a crowded urban neighborhood out of dry tinder with a single 1-person entrance and exit, and holding church services during a lightning storm for 125 people?  You shouldn’t be OK with it because it’s an unsafe situation.  If a fire starts, there will be death, and if there’s cars blocking the path for emergency vehicles, it becomes a threat, not only to those gathered inside, but to the neighbors as well, since fire has this tendency to “spread rapidly”.  Although my libertarian friends may disagree, providing for the general welfare and public safety is one of the most basic requirements of local government.  Throw in the deceitful, uncooperative behavior by Mr. Salman and I’ll say it: yes, it’s perfectly reasonable for a city to require that buildings where people gather en masse for whatever purpose are safe for the people inside, the people outside, and any public safety personnel that may have to enter the structure.

And this, kids, leads us to what I like to call my rules of not being a jerk about your Bible Study.  I’ve used these before, expanded on them, elaborated, but they’re pretty definitive and I think you should pay attention, memorize them, and repeat them over and over.

  1. Hosting a Bible Study in your home is a good thing.  Our faith is a critical element of who we are as people, and strengthening that faith through study and fellowship is a wonderful part of growth.
  2. Not being a jerk about your Bible Study is an equally good thing.  Just because we have a responsibility to share our faith doesn’t mean we have a right to be a jerk about it.
  3. If you’re going to host a Bible Study in your home, be a good neighbor to those around you.  Love your neighbor as yourself by being pleasant about your Bible Study.  Just because you think you have the constitutional right to have a Bible Study doesn’t take away your neighbors’ rights to live in peace.
  4. Try to keep your Bible Study size appropriate for your neighborhood.  If you’ve got a 3-bed 1,500 sq ft house in the burbs and you’re hosting 50 people…  you may want to break up into smaller groups.  That way, you limit the amount of traffic on the road and keep transportation around your neighborhood moving smoothly.  You also have less risk of someone ticking off your neighbors by blocking them in their driveways, damaging their lawn, or creating too much noise.
  5. Keep lines of communication open between yourself and your neighbors.  Let them know what’s going on and when – and keep to the schedule.  If you say it’s going to be from 7-9 pm, don’t hold things over until 9:30.  Make sure your neighbors have your phone number so that they can contact you if there’s a problem.  If they do contact you with a problem: address the problem.  And invite your neighbors (and don’t get offended if they say no).  Don’t ruin a relationship with someone you share a fenceline with because you’re got a bug up your butt.
  6. If you’re holding weekly services with chairs, flyers, a pulpit and a website, you’re a church.  Act like one by providing a safe, friendly environment for worshiping God.  If that means that you’re going to have to move your activities to a more public location, then do so.  Trust God to provide through offerings, donations, etc.
  7. Finally, and most importantly: don’t be a jerk.  I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating.  If a neighbor calls you to complain that there’s too much traffic and noise, then listen to them and try to work with them.  If the city shows up and says that you need to have clearly marked exit doors, then go down to Lowe’s or Home Depot and pick up some exit signs.  If the city tells you that the structure you’re in is unsafe for the crowd you’re drawing, then by all means, find another structure or split into smaller groups.  If you’re going to represent Jesus to people, then act like He would.

I know all this is a bit of a veer from my usual Obama-bashing, and that may be shocking to some of you, but at the end of the day, conservatives and Christians should be smarter than this.  Don’t give in to conspiracy theories and manipulation by charlatans and criminals.  Be smart.  Listen up.  Learn stuff.

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