Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ferndale First Baptist should break agreement with SOS

Ferndale's First Baptist Church should break its agreement with The South Oakland Shelter (SOS) to lease an unused building for SOS to use as administrative offices.

The best argument citizens have in favor of SOS's relocation to First Baptist from its current Royal Oak address on Main Street, is that SOS does good work. Personally, I think the Murphy brothers did a great job on my kitchen but its unlikely the church would have offered a lease to them for that reason and I don't think that's what was meant by "good work."

Instead, what was meant by good work is that SOS has a charitable mission. As charitable as the Murphy brothers may be charity isn't the brothers' mission so the church is still unlikely to lease space to them.

But ultimately, niether SOS' or the Murphies' missions are the issue that should be debated. The real argument is that by becoming a landlord to SOS, First Baptist's mission suddenly changed from leases on the after-life to leases in general.

I have nothing against landlords or churches and am on good terms with several of both. But if I purchased a property near a church I expect the church to do church-like things. I do not expect them to turn the temple into a den of landlords and not expect me to toss a fit or two.

It seems the neighbors supporting SOS at the church feel the church is simply extending its charitable and religious mission to include SOS' mission to the newly homeless. SOS' is indeed a noble and virtuous mission, but the church can support that mission by donating money or volunteering time to the SOS. It doesn't have to lease space or upset its neighbors to do that.

The church could also donate the space to the SOS. That would be charitable, too, and it would successfully silence my argument about their becoming a landlord (I think). As long as the charity isn't bartering with the church or paying a share of the utility bills I might change my mind.

But I'm pretty confident that won't happen. A Christmas-day article in the Detroit News detailed how the bad economy and worries of job security have driven-down donations to all charitable organizations. GM recently cut-off funding to arts and cultural institutions (I don't think anyone wonders why). Those facts combined with the area's other demographics suggest Ferndale may not be able to support as many churches as it used to with either members or donations, just as it can't support as many schools or tool & die shops.

So if churches, like automakers, are reluctant to close or combine with other churches; what are they to do with all that empty, unused space? Why not supplement Sunday collections by going into the property management business?

The residents protesting the 25-year lease agreement aren't evil or uncharitable. Councilman T. Scott Galloway's recent city-council sermonizing stated his certainty that the Christian thing to do was to support SOS. So, before Christ did his big "den-of-thieves" thing in Jerusalem's temple he should have checked with Scott first.

The much over-quoted Ecclesiastes 3's "To every thing there is a season.." is worth paraphrasing as, "To every thing there is a place." And that's why Ceasar created zoning commissions and zoning plans, so the interests and quality of Ferndale's neighborhoods would be balanced against the interests and quality of Ferndale's commercial districts. For a building surrounded on three sides by homes to switch from friendly neighborhood church to a competitor for tax-paying landlords violates zoning rules.

If the church doesn't see fit to break its agreement for biblical reasons the zoning commission or city council should break it for secular reasons.

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