Sunday, April 29, 2012

City Permits, Religion, and the Gospel

This story caught my eye today. It is about Pastor Ken Shigematsu, of Tenth Church in Vancouver, and it shows how even the most seemingly straightforward administrative aspects of church life can have some depth of theological, historical, and political significance.
"[A.B.] Simpson started the Alliance Church because he couldn't be an evangelical Christian in good faith without ministering to a diverse crowd of people. Tenth Church walks in Simpson's shoes. Once a middle-class, all-Caucasian congregation, Tenth Church's demographic makeup began to change organically, simply because Ken was different.... Ken and his pastoral staff get up onto the stage every Sunday and preach the message of Jesus' love and forgiveness. This was also the impetus for starting a social justice ministry for the homeless [which eventually involved three meals a week and an overnight option for some visitors once a week]....
It was this ministry that got Ken and the church into trouble with the city when Tenth Church's building went under reconstruction. Upon inspecting the building, city planners told Ken that he had to get a social services permit in order to feed the homeless. He initially agreed, but there was an outcry among other religious communities who weren't able to afford the permit but were also feeding the hungry. Ken and his staff began to rethink the permit; as Ken's senior associate pastor Mardi Dolfo-Smith told the press, serving the poor is in fact part of the faith at Tenth Church, not an extra add-on, and what the city was doing was to define which parts of Tenth Church's practices were religious and which were social instead of letting the congregation speak for itself.
An interfaith committee headed by Chinese Christian activist Bill Chu was started to preserve social justice as an integral part of the faith for Tenth Church. Eventually, the city allowed [the service] to continue, and all of Vancouver's religious communities breathed a sigh of relief."
- Justin Tse, 'Hearing a Different Kind of Evangelical: Pastor Ken Shigematsu,' in ricepaper: Asian Canadian Arts and Culture 16/3 (Fall 2011), p. 56, emphasis added.

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