I prayed for a few weeks before writing this. I would not have done so publicly had my private attempts at discussion not been disregarded.
Let’s start here:
I love Grace Chapel in Liepers Fork, TN.
I knew Grace Chapel was special the very first time I drove by in June of 2014… I knew at that moment Grace Chapel was MY church. And although God saved me in 2011 when I was homeless in Kansas City — it was Grace Chapel that welcomed and baptized me.
I love Pastor Steve Berger—THE GREATEST PASTOR I’ve ever heard—EVER…in my life…and, trust me, I’ve seen my share. I’d been looking for a church home for 20 years.
My son was saved with the loving help of Pastor Steve in 2015—and for that I will always be grateful. Always, always, always..
I’ve ALSO always asked a lot of questions— and unlike ALL the previous churches in my 20 year quest—even in disagreement or misunderstanding—Grace Chapel welcomed and helped me find answers to my questions.
I don’t write to ‘prove I’m right’—to the contrary, I write because I don’t want to believe that which is not true. That’s how this old hillbilly learns.
Admittedly, I’m not the smartest or most articulate—but I’ve NEVER written the church with anything but love and respect… even in passionate disagreement as I am doing now.
But Grace Chapel has changed…
This is not just my opinion. NONE of the original group of Grace Chapel members that welcomed me to Grace Chapel are still there. They did not move from Franklin… they left GC for new churches. I’m the last of the Mohicans, so to speak.
Recently, when I’ve respectfully questioned what ‘we as a church family’ are doing— Grace Chapel has twice disallowed my Facebook posts—and my emails are regularly dismissed like I’m some crackpot.
I sure hate if I’ve given that impression.
Just briefly as to who I am (a couple assistant pastors kinda know me) I’m not rich or famous– nor do I want to be— after 6 years of being homeless, I now produce a modestly successful Christian-conservative comedy show now in its 8th year. My productions have been viewed by millions— my now ‘award-winning show’ is funded by Christians and Jews, pastors and rabbis, oil rig operators, truckers, doctors and regular God-fearing folks from around the globe…including from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Over recent months— I’m humbled and honored to have had ‘paid’ speaking engagements in Washington DC, and the Trump Doral in Miami Florida— not bad for a guy who was homeless in 2014.
Proving once again the awesomeness of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Online and in person – I’ve shared Grace Chapel with tens of thousands of people— I still have some of Pastor Steve’s sermons posted on my website. Here’s an example of the notes I get—this one’s from just a few weeks ago.
[Notes like this are so gratifying, and let me know I’m doing at least ONE thing right.]
But now, during this Government-Ordered Lockdown, a.k.a. one of the darkest times in our nation’s history—my heart of hearts tells me this is wrong— the church should be open.
Our Bill of Rights has been suspended, people are being ruined— tens of millions of jobs lost…and the church is closed?
I can’t believe I just wrote that.
The New Normal?
Recent ‘online’ services at GC have featured a Chyron on the screen—“Navigating the New Normal”.
This “new normal” is language being bandied about by ‘those who have plenty’—telling ‘those who don’t have plenty’… like myself—we cannot work without their permission…and we cannot go to church without their permission.
This “new normal” is the language used by those who’ve implemented WILDLY draconian measures— where our fellow-citizens are arrested for exercising their God-given rights, mothers arrested for going to the park with their children… and pastors are handcuffed for trying to preach the word of God, in a manner… not approved by our government?
The new normal is hiding from a disease that nobody sees… Hardly anyone knows someone sick. In the meantime, respected doctors, scientists and researchers [from Stanford, USC, etc] —fellow Americans—who express opposing views are banned, blocked & ignored.
This “new normal” is the language used by Government officials who have determined liquor stores, grocery stores and hardware stores are essential businesses— but churches are not. What the hell?
As a layman with questions— to me, Jesus Christ IS the normal—Jesus is the old normal, Jesus is the new normal and Jesus is the future normal—at least for Christians.
And the church is supposed to be a beacon of hope, strength and love for the community…a place of sanity during storms of chaos and indecision… NOT a ‘non-essential business’ cowering in the corner, waiting for government permission to open.
An Associate Pastor, the Governor and the First Amendment
One of the few responses I did receive from the pastoral staff regarding this church closure issue— was of course, very polite as usual— advising me that the Bible instructs us to follow the dictates of governing authority. And with that, I agree.
But THEN they added– “When our Governor who leads this state says it’s ok, then we will re-open. The governor has been placed there by God according to the Word of God.. Romans 13:1-2”. The Associate Pastor closed with “we will have to agree to disagree”
The problem here— I respectfully DO NOT agree to disagree on a topic of such a monumental importance.
While it is true the Bible instructs us to follow the dictates of governing authority…and while it is ALSO true that Governor Lee leads our state—> here in this, the United States of America—the governing authority over the church is NOT government.
In fact it is quite clear, ‘government authority, with regard to religion’ is specifically addressed and strictly forbidden. Government has zero authority over how, when or where a church chooses worship. None…not the Governor… not the President. Not ANY public servant.
And there are no asterisks in the Bill of Rights.
Now if the church decides to close of its own volition—that’s fine. It’s the church’s decision. But that’s not what’s happened here. The government demanded it…
Some churches are fighting back—some are filing lawsuits to stop this tyrannical and unconstitutional over-reach….
It was wrong hundreds of years ago with the Church of England— it was wrong in the Soviet Union, it’s wrong in China… and it’s wrong today in Franklin TN.
God’s Warrior – Pastor Steve
I’d come to picture Pastor Steve as a sort of a ‘superhero angel’— pacing back and forth along the perimeter— guarding all that belongs to God.
As I stated above, Pastor Steve is the greatest pastor/teacher I EVER heard in my life—and one of the most important people who have EVER come in to my life—but today, even Pastor Steve seems different.
(Of course, I’ve only known Pastor Steve from a distance.)
Maybe it’s me? That’s what I’ve been trying to ask…
I remember Pastor Steve raising Holy Hell (pun intended) from the pulpit— when almost 1000 miles away— in Houston, TX, the mayor encroached on religious freedom when she demanded sermons be approved in advance [City of Houston demands pastors turn over sermons].
Pastor Steve was having none of it.
Welding the Holy Bible and the United States Constitution— Pastor Steve got right in the camera, challenged the mayor—and proceeded to administer a butt-kicking of biblical proportions.
It was awesome.
In fact on multiple occasions, I watched as Pastor Steve stood ferociously like some Holy Pit Bull on guard for OUR religious freedoms.
But today the government says close—and we close.
No questions asked?
Then I saw where we were going to “Stand Up for our Religious Freedoms” by sitting in our cars (?)… because government closed our churches(?). Is this a joke? This is like celebrating Freedom of Speech while duct-taping our mouth shut.
I suspect I won’t be invited to Sunday Dinner any time soon—but I love y’all nonetheless.
And the change I’m describing didn’t just start with this Covid-19 nonsense… it’s been percolating for a couple years now. I actually mentioned it to the awesome Pastor Rick Cua over a year ago. (i.e. GC morphing into a ‘just another’ mega-church). UPDATE: For the record, Pastor Rick is a wonderful listener…he did not agree or disagree—I was the only one talking about this.
“Thanks for calling the Church of That’s Not My Department”
A couple of my own futile attempts to get closer with the church have included:
- Offering multiple times to share my testimony. Ignored. (that one hurt)
- Trying for 2 years to have my ANNUAL COOKOUT at Grace Chapel… Ignored. (both times, we ended up at Puckett’s, just around the corner)
And again to be clear, I don’t write this with a wagging or accusing finger, not do I write in anger— Heck, I could be wrong. I write with sadness and confusion.
But this is serious business – Freedom versus Tyranny…and Freedom NEEDS Pastor Steve again.
I refuse to believe Pastor Steve is taking the side of Tyranny. So I really need to understand this. (if Pastor Steve has addressed this stuff in his new podcast—I’m sorry I missed it, would love to hear it)
Thank you for your time
Joe Dan Gorman