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Religious Privilege Above The Law – Dad’s Place Church Bryan Ohio

Pastor Chris Avell was criminally charged for housing the homeless in his church. Where do we draw the legal line especially when the lives of those struggling is in the balance?

Episode 72: Religious Privilege Above The Law – Dad’s Place Church Bryan Ohio

When the steadfast beliefs of a small-town church collide with the rigidity of municipal codes, the result is a legal labyrinth worthy of a deep exploration. That’s why Bruce Gerencser, a former evangelical minister, will share the saga of his friend Pastor Chris Avell and his federal lawsuit drama with the city of Bryan, Ohio. Amidst the clash of ideologies and legalities, we dissect the pivotal issues at play — from the constitutional guarantees of the First Amendment to the civic responsibilities of a community.

Venturing beyond legalities, our conversation pivots to the societal conundrum of rural homelessness, with Bryan serving as a microcosm of a nationwide struggle. Dad’s Place Church’s transformation into a shelter thrusts the spotlight upon the thin line between benevolence and zoning infractions. Where do we draw the legal line especially when the lives of those struggling is in the balance?

01:02 Introduction
03:29 Report from WTVG in Toledo
04:00 Interview with Bruce Gerencser
46:10 Epilogue & Update

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Our Guest

Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Bruce lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren.

His website “The Life And Times Of Bruce Gerencser” is riveting for his tales of being an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor, cautionary as he explains in detail how interpretations of the Bible were used to support and expand a patriarchal society, and hopeful as Bruce documents his journey to freethought.

Extras:

Bryan church files federal lawsuit against city in homeless shelter dispute (alternate PDF file)

Bryan church charged with zoning violations for housing homeless

An Ohio pastor was punished for opening his church to the homeless. He deserves it.

*Update – 02/10/2024* – The criminal charges were dropped but the Federal lawsuit is still active (pdf alternative)

Transcript:

Read full transcript here

[0:02] This is Glass City Humanist, a show about humanism, humanist values, by a humanist. Here is your host, Douglas Berger. This episode is ripped from the headlines as the plight of Dad’s Place Church in Bryan, Ohio, made national right-wing news. Pastor Chris Avell was criminally charged for housing homeless people in his church. We interview one of our members, a longtime friend, former evangelical minister Bruce Gerencer, who knows the participants of this debate very well. Glass City Humanist is an outreach project of the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie, building community through compassion and reason for a better tomorrow.

[0:47] Music.

[1:02] Welcome to Glass City Humanists. My name is Doug. I’m your host, of course. Coming up here in a few minutes, I have an interview with one of our members from the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie, Bruce Gerencer. He’s a former evangelical minister, lives near Ney. And he’s going to talk about Chris Avell, Pastor Chris Avell, who was is the minister of a church in Bryan called Dad’s Place. That had gotten in trouble by the city of Bryan for housing homeless people against code. And he had received several criminal charges for violating the zoning codes for the city of Bryan. Um pastor ravel then became buddy buddies with first liberty institute which is a christian nationalist law firm that defends religious freedom of people no matter what they do.

[2:08] And so they got involved and on January the 22nd filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Bryan. And so I had Bruce on this particular interview I did for my other podcast, Secular Left. And it is being used here with his permission and with my permission.

[2:30] Because I think that the topic that we talk about is just as important for humanists and other secular people. And some of the issues that we that we discussed is very, very important is it’s some of the social justice issues that we that we take to heart as as humanists. And so I wanted to share it without having to do another interview. So if you’re watching the video of this on Spotify, you’re going to see me talking with a background that says secular left. And that’s why. But but rest assured that, you know, this interview is being done. You know, it’s it’s it’s the same interview that I did for Secular Left. Just I’m packaging it here for Glass City Humanist. And so after the interview, then I’ll have an epilogue since some things did get updated since we did this interview. you.

[3:29] Williams County on a story we first brought you back in December. Law firms and a non-profit representing Dad’s Place and Pastor Chris Avell have filed a federal lawsuit and temporary restraining order against the city of Bryan. They allege city officials are trying to shut down the church’s religious activities. City has previously leveled nearly two dozen charges against Avell, arguing the church has committed several zoning violations for housing homeless in a facility that’s not permitted to do so. Avell pleaded not guilty to those charges. Well, our guest today is Bruce Gerencer. He is a former…

[4:04] Evangelical minister lives up in northwest ohio up in the same area as pastor chris avel, who has recently filed a federal lawsuit against the city of bryan over an illegal or what the city is classifying as an illegal homeless shelter that he was running out of his church, i’ve asked bruce on today to talk about it because he knows the pastor pastor uh they they are friends and he also has a a certain point of view about it and I kind of want to have a discussion about it so sure um just to kind of give a brief overview about the situation is that Pastor Avel Avel uh opened a church called Dad’s Church in downtown Bryan and that is in Williams County right yes Williams County so the county seat of Williams County in in the northwest corner of the state. And he opened his church. And then at one point, according to the news reports in March of 2023, he decided to open his doors to homeless people 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

[5:19] Unfortunately, the city of Bryan was not happy about it, saying that he was violating zoning regulations, regulations, health and safety issues regarding like a laundry and a cooking hood and things like that. They had also been getting complaints through the police department, which usually is probably why they started harping on the zoning. And eventually he was given criminal charges for violating the zoning because he refuses to shut down there is a legal christian nationalist, legal team that is representing him called first liberty for people that are in the know first liberty is the one that worked the case about the coach who had the prayer on the 50-yard line he won his case and they also represented the postal worker who wanted to take off on sundays even if they couldn’t cover his shift, and he kind of won that court case.

[6:23] So these guys filed a federal lawsuit on Monday, January 22nd against the city saying that the pastor was intimidated, and I think they even said it was a shakedown and things like that. So that’s the brief overview of the situation. And in my well let me go with Bruce here you said that your friends how did you meet the pastor and in what’s your relationship like first of all thanks for having me and I’ve known Chris oh goodness.

[7:02] 12, 15 years, probably, I’d say at this point. And my first interaction with Chris was when he was the pastor of a church of God a couple miles from my house here out in the country. And Chris wanted to befriend me, interact with me. And I’ve always been leery of evangelical preachers who come in the name of love and friendship and just want to be my buddy and take me to lunch and whatnot. It’s hard not to see the ulterior motives behind what they’re trying to do. But I found Chris to be a friend, genuine about his beliefs.

[7:55] When this first issue came up, I wrote him and said, look, I have I have no use for your theology whatsoever.

[8:05] I, you know, and he knows that. And we’ve gone back and forth numerous times. And I’ve even mocked him on my blog a time or two, you know, some of the things they’ve done over the years. And, but I appreciate the work that he’s doing with what I call the least of these, those that are without, the homeless and whatnot. So I try to distinguish between the work that he’s doing with homeless people and his beliefs, and certainly I’m no fan of First Liberty Institute at all. I despise much of what they do, though they can at times land on the right side of the law, too, when it comes to First Amendment issues. And so you have to try to separate, you know, these various issues. And that’s not easy to do, you know. And at the same token, you know, from the dad’s place and Chris’s side, you know, we’re hearing, you know, cries of persecution. And, you know, someone’s got an agenda that they’re trying to prosecute against the church and whatnot. And I don’t think that’s the case either.

[9:25] I know some of the people, you know, that are Bryan city leaders and good people, as far as I know, all of them are Christians, every last one of them, because everybody’s a Christian around here. And I just think that what we have is this, you know, two competing ideas here. You know, we have the law and then we have this.

[9:52] View of how best to deal with a social problem and a political problem. And so there’s this conflict. And so then we have this butting of heads that goes on because people dig their feet in. And, you know, and the old gospel song is, I shall not be moved. And that sometimes is what happens here. And so now it’s going to go to court to be settled. Yeah. And I want to say from the outset too, that the homelessness problem is endemic. It exists everywhere, including Bryan. Bryan, I think is only about 20, 30,000 people at most. No, 9,000. Oh, it’s 9,000? Wow. Yeah. The county is about 37,000. Yes. Yeah. And so the homeless problem exists in the rural communities, just like they do in the big big cities. Yes. There’s a lack of affordable housing.

[10:52] There’s a lack of a will, political will to take care of it because they could take care of it. They really could tomorrow. Now, on the flip side, there’s also some people who refuse to live in a home. Sure, sure. I’ve met one or two of them at a time, and those people should be helped as well. So from the outset, I just want to say that homelessness is a problem. I know when I expressed my views on this issue earlier this week, somebody complained, well, you don’t care about homeless people. It’s like, no, I do care about homeless people. They should be able to find shelter and services and help without being in danger of dying in a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning or something like And that’s what a lot of these zoning violations were for the Dad’s Place Church.

[11:44] Yeah. And let’s be clear, the city of Bryan has never done squat about the homeless problem. The homeless shelter is a private institution that’s run by, it was started by Grace Community Church, which used to be a downtown church. Church, which I guarantee you that when they were a downtown church, they violated countless laws while they were in that downtown building. And so Grace Community, a pastor by Mike Kelly, I believe they’re a Mennonite church now, and they were a charismatic evangelical church. And you know, they started this homeless shelter. And so people don’t get confused thinking that that they’re in Toledo, like at the Cherry Street Rescue Mission or someplace like that.

[12:37] You know, they have four beds for single men and then they have two more rooms for families or for married couples. And so there’s.

[12:49] There’s not a lot of beds to start with. And so, you know, it’s primarily been this private religious group. And believe me, the homeless shelter in Bryan is devoutly, the people that run it are devoutly religious. They’re evangelical. People who live there are required to attend church and follow Bible principles and rules, which is not uncommon, you know, when it comes to religious-oriented homeless shelters and things like that. And so what I see Dad’s Place doing is trying to take care of the overflow from that and that there are more people than the homeless shelter can handle. And so the church took in the overflow from that, even at the, you know, the city police, you know, bringing people there and the local hospital bringing people there and dropping them off so they could, you know, find some place to, you know, to sleep and get a meal. Now, as far as the, so let’s talk about the zoning. Because that seems to, you know, that be the issue.

[14:11] You know, and the city of Bryan is grossly overplaying the so-called safety violations. Regulations uh in fact uh you know i may made a statement today that said uh if if we want to follow strictly follow the zoning health codes and building codes and all all of those things in brian i can take them to dozens of businesses and churches that cannot pass uh inspections on I mean, within a block of this church. And so when I look at the violations, okay, if they needed carbon monoxide detectors, fire detectors, no-brainer. Got to do that. Got to do that. No question about that. But to a small church that’s a storefront church, the fact that they have a stove that they cook on that doesn’t have a vent over the top of it.

[15:12] Come on, you know, it’s not going to hurt anybody, you know, in the same way what they had a dryer in there and, you know, in the gas dryer had a, you know, there was a plastic vent attached to it instead of a metal vent attached. And, you know, if Brian was serious about the plastic vents, then they might stop the local hardware stores and building supply stores from selling them if they truly are are a safety hazard. And I think there was even a small gas leak, too, supposedly reported. Yes, which, by the way, they fixed on the spot. I mean, it was a very minor…

[15:53] You’re always going to have things like that. But Doug, I pastored… Every church I pastored, we had some sort of social outreach, from a food bank to… We had an apartment where people could could stay we we took care of you know we cared for homeless people uh numerous times over the year and we had a clothing room and and all these various things that we did you know and uh we’re we’re we’re the every aspect of what we did according to uh the strict interpretation of zoning laws well of course not they weren’t it’s kind of hard to you know the zoning laws are are written at, let’s say, 2020, and you’re dealing with buildings that were, some of them are 50, 60, 70, even 80 years old. And so you have to try to, what I would like to see in all of this is that there be, there’s the letter of the law, and then there’s the spirit of the law. And so how can we come to a common understanding.

[17:06] Uh with this help the homeless people at the same time and yet make sure you know that it’s a safe environment and it needs to be a safe environment don’t get me wrong and if chris and dad’s place are actually doing things that are that could harm people then uh i’m all for, uh you know them being forced or required to do that but from what i understand is is that um.

[17:32] Brian, zoning forbids them from housing people, period, regardless of the zoning. Yeah, on the first floor. Yeah. Yeah. And so it’s kind of a mute issue about the zoning because it doesn’t matter. It could be a brand new building. We’re still not going to let you do this. Yeah, and I could probably assure you too that inspecting churches and religious organization buildings for zoning violations is the least likely on the list of things that a zoning enforcement is going to do because they’re just not. They look the other way most of the time for a lot of this stuff. Maybe if they have a daycare, they might get some extra special attention. Or if they’re serving food like a soup kitchen, they’ll get inspected for health and safety. But if it’s just a plain church, I don’t think so, unless somebody complains. And it looks like for some reason somebody’s complaining. And this is the other part that I kind of wanted to mention. Who is complaining? Huh? Who is complaining? The city is complaining. I think what it is, is a lot of these cities use zoning.

[18:51] To weed out entities that they do not want in certain areas of town. Right. And so if if you are making money for the city and tax base for the city, they’re less they’re more likely to work with you to get special use permits or to change the the zoning. If you are something that they don’t like, they are not going to work with you. So I get that part. part. And I’ve warned pastors that start new churches and storefronts. I said, look, I says, there’s a quirk in Ohio law that when you start these churches, if it was previously some sort of retail store and you’re starting a church in the same building, then it’s really a a change of use. And so the state can come in technically and say, hey, you know, you’ve had a change of use. You didn’t notify us of that. You didn’t apply for a change of use. And so, you know, you’re running basically, you know, an illegal operation.

[20:04] But the problem is, is that there’s no consistency with those laws. And that’s why this seems, you know, somewhat subjective to to me. And so I want to know, okay, you know, what, what provoked this initially? Was it, was it a business that, you know, didn’t like the, uh, the number of people coming through, through dad’s place? Uh, didn’t they like them out on the street?

[20:27] Um, I know the, the police department was saying, well, you know, they’ve had an increase in calls to the place and, and, uh, okay, well, I can point to half a dozen bars in town where I guarantee you have increased priest calls. And the pastor said he’s never had more than 20 people there. Right. So I don’t know what these extra calls they’re talking about unless it’s people hanging out outside smoking or begging for money. You know, that could be. Right. Right. For more information about the topics in this episode, including links used, please visit the episode page at glasscityhumanist.show.

[21:35] You know, that they’re like a… Video store or a pinball arcade. But in fact, it’s because Hemet’s never been here. He doesn’t understand how evangelical churches work. The fact is that that little arcade is at the front of this building. It’s a very small part of it. And the church operates in this huge space in the back of this building. And there’s always been an alleyway door where you can get access to this part of the building. There have been numerous religious groups in and out of there over the years, including in the late 1990s, there was some local people got together and started some sort of youth ministry and thought that they would bring in Christian rock and roll groups and whatnot and thought they would appeal to the kids. And it was a miserable failure. But so this space has had religious activity in it in its past. And, you know, it’s nothing abnormal that’s going on here. You know, and from my perspective, look, I’ve I’ve started several churches over the years. Some of them were storefront nearby West Unity.

[22:54] You know, we started a church there. And, you know, and technically we were in several areas probably in violation of zoning laws. But in every way, we made the buildings better. You know, so, for example, the building that we purchased used to be the West Unity Public Library.

[23:16] And so we put in a couple of handicap compliant, ADA compliant bathrooms. bathrooms. And poor New Samaritan did all this work and write up the code. Even though we didn’t have a permit to do it, we followed the code and whatnot. Now, the old bathroom… That was the library’s bathroom. Well, it was a one-seater that you had to, there was a step you had to step up into it.

[23:45] And so I remember I can do electrical work. And so I remember we had to replace a light and a switch in that bathroom. I said, okay, I’m going to, you know, replace that light and that switch. And so I pull everything out. Come to find out that the person who did the previous work had taken extension cords, cut the ends off of them. and use that for the wiring inside the walls. And so, okay. You know, so me, I look at that and I say, hey, you know, we made this building better in every way. Is it strictly compliant? No, if you looked at our auditorium, for example, technically there should have been three aisleways in the auditorium. Well, it wasn’t big enough for three aisleways. So we had one big aisleway down the middle, technically in violation of fire code, I would say, for the most part. Part of me says, you know, damn it, obey the law. You know, that’s what the law is there for, you know, and we should do our best to obey the law, you know, but also I know sometimes we get in our car and we drive 80 miles an hour down the freeway too, you know, and we break the law.

[24:57] And so as long as it’s not a health health and safety issue i’m willing to you know uh give some of these places a break as long as they’re working towards you know improving the space now if if dad’s place if they’re doing things that are that are putting people in physical harm then that stuff needs to be immediately corrected and uh and and i don’t know you know i don’t know um.

[25:30] How Chris’s approach has been to the city and to village, to city officials. I don’t know if it was an advertorial rule, you know, and, you know, that’s the problem. All of us on the outside of this, we don’t know what’s going on in these various discussions and whatnot. And what’s, what’s the driving motivation behind these things? Well, the only thing that I know is from the reports that I’ve read, right. And they had an article in the Brian city paper, or the village something.

[26:01] Well, there’s the Bryantime, then there’s the Village Reporter. It was the Village Reporter. Yeah, and that’s out of West Unity, yep. Right, and basically what they did was the city tried to work with him. They even had somebody that was offering a building outside of downtown that they could then legally have a shelter at, and he turned them down. Right. That’s what the city’s reporting. Right. Right. Yeah. And that’s problematic with him since since at least November, they’ve been trying to work with him even more. And he’s refused to work with the city. And then that’s when they filed the charges. So it wasn’t like all of a sudden, hey, you’ve got homeless people. Here’s your you know, you’re under arrest. You know, it’s not like that. They’re they’re Liberty Institute’s kind of playing it up that way. But that’s not how it was. Right. Yeah. And so that, you know, and and I’d like to have more information because I read that. And I certainly would want to know more information about that. And, you know, was this a cost issue? Was this a, you know, I don’t know. You know, there are factors that I don’t know, you know, I don’t know, you know, about that particular issue. But certainly that would address the problem with being downtown.

[27:19] And though, you know, for me, I don’t understand it because there’s a homeless shelter downtown. Well, I think probably they’re afraid that there’s going to be multiple homeless shelters downtown. It’s certainly possible. So they want to nip it in the bud, as Barney Fife used to say. Yeah. But what I was going to say is that I’m with you on the part about obeying the law. And that’s the real conflict that I have with this issue.

[27:53] Is that I see this too often where a religious group doesn’t like a particular law. And so then they file a federal lawsuit and it gets changed where they don’t have to follow the law. They did that with the mask mandates and the closing for the pandemic. And so what I think what happened maybe is that Chris decided, you know, he was called to help people that needed homes. I get that.

[28:21] And I just think he’s in over his head. I don’t think he realized how much paperwork, you know, that’s why a lot of these shelters are such a large organization, right? Because it’s not something where you just throw open your doors and welcome people in, you know, there’s things that you have to do and money you have to spend to make it safe. And the other thing, too, that is he’s not offering any services to these people other than religious services. You know, he’s not trying to find a permanent housing. He’s not trying to work with social workers, at least according to the reports I’ve seen. Right. You know, that’s something else a shelter does. Right. So right now he’s just warehousing people. Yes. And I really don’t think that that’s going to solve any long-term issues. Well, it solves the short-term problem is that you have people standing outside that are cold and, you know, they need a place to stay and, you know, and food to eat. But let me share from the – I understand his religious persuasions quite well, you know, and, you know, because I was driven by similar motivations, you know, years ago. And that I believed I had a higher calling.

[29:42] That superseded anything that the government or the law might tell me. This is my duty given to me by God, you know, to do these things. And so we, you know, you take, for example, in southeast Ohio, I pastored a church there for 11 years, and we started a Christian school down there, a tuition-free school, and the school children were woefully educated, and we thought we would would try to, you know, improve their lot in life. And one of the things was to, the church had a water well that was 20 feet deep. And 20 feet. And the water that came out of the tap was red, so filled with iron that it was undrinkable. And we had to use these brine tanks just to clean the water up enough to use them, you know. And so my in-laws donated a couple thousand dollars to the church and said, you know, put in a new well. And so we put in a new well. And, you know, a couple hundred feet deep and nice water and all of that. And, you know, in a couple months after the well’s done, here shows up the Ohio EPA.

[30:58] And says, well, because you have a school here, you’re considered a public waterway now. now. I thought, okay, got to test every three months. Okay. Oh, and by the way, your new well is too close to the property line. You’re going to have to move it. Now, I remember telling that inspector, I said, here’s the deal. I said, we had a 20-foot well before with red water, and now we have a nice well. And you’re saying because it’s a few feet too close to the property line, we have to move it. And I can see where Chris, you can get this way. I just looked at him and said, that’s not going to happen. And if you want to press this issue, we’ll see you in court. That was just that simple. And he decided that that few feet really didn’t matter so much after all. And so there’s things like that that happens. Now, the difference here is, of course, you’ve got people sleeping in a building, and that is a higher level of risk, you know, especially if there’s a threat of fire or carbon monoxide or things like that.

[32:12] And so I hope the church is doing everything it can to, you know, address those issues. You know, on a side thing, you know, one thing that troubled me in all of this is that the The city of Bryan would have.

[32:29] Taken a civil approach to this, you know, and they could have gone that route, I think. I’m not a lawyer. So, it troubles me that, you know, you filed criminal charges against this pastor, and he could end up in jail over this, you know, and so that seems, extreme, and the fact that, you know, let’s be clear, it also turns pastors into martyrs, When you, when you do that, you know, that that’s the other side of it. You know, you, they become the martyr and you become the victimizer and, uh, you know, and, and so I, you know, on both parts, I think both parties, you know, it’d be good if they take a step back and say, okay, how can we remediate this? You know, and, uh, uh, you know, I don’t know. It seems to me, at least from what I’ve read so far, is that both sides have dug in their heels. And we’ll see where it goes from there. Would you like to be a guest on Glass City Humanist or know someone who would make a good guest? Let us know and visit glasscityhumanist.show and click on the link how to be a guest.

[33:50] Well, I originally, when I first heard about it, you know, special use permit or something like that, or working to change the zoning of that particular building, because they can do that. They can change particular blocks. And this would be a way of at least going, you know, putting in like a temporary overlay or some stuff like that. But I guess that they had decided, the city had decided that that was not possible. You could not have a special use permit to allow residential living in the first floor at all. It’s prohibited in a C3 commercial thing. And they were talking about the shelter next door saying that they’re already compliant client with all the zoning regulations. And it used to be, I think a thrift shop before it was a shelter. Cause I saw the picture.

[34:53] Yeah, there was a, well, there was, yeah, there was a thrift shop there. Some place that they sold stuff for the church or. Yeah. Originally the church itself, Grace Community Church was downtown. That was their whole purpose. You know, I remember their motto was, you know, we’re downtown. That’s because that’s where the people are. And, and, but they eventually gathered up enough people and money. They went outside of town and built a brand new building, you know, such as the way. And uh uh but yeah you know i just i i i’m flummoxed because again this is like a special condition right you know because you have people involved that are vulnerable and they need help and i don’t want to sound like a grinch or a scrooge but it’s like they need to apply you You know, if it comes to find out that they’re applying these zoning regulations equally, you know, the pastor doesn’t have an argument. Right. My fear is because Liberty, First Liberty Institute’s involved, is they’re just going to get a good judge and it’s just going to chuck everything away. Right. And he’s going to get what he wants, but it’s going to affect the city of Bryan from that point forward. Well, yeah, and that’s always the danger.

[36:15] You know, when I pastored in West Unity for seven years, you understand my background, so you’ll appreciate this. You know, I wouldn’t do this now, of course, but the city of West, the village of West Unity was dry. There was no liquor, one of the last dry towns in the state of Ohio. And so they decided to…

[36:41] You know, put a liquor option on the ballot. And boy, oh boy, I says, absolutely not, you know. And I campaigned against that and got other churches involved and, you know, and the issue went down to defeat. I mean, we won decidedly on that issue. But here’s the problem with that, you know, is that, yes, I won.

[37:08] But I ruined my reputation in town as a result of that. Because across the street at the American Legion, which wanted to sell liquor and can’t, I was, you know, Pastor MF-er, I was Pastor SOB, I was Pastor, you know. And so I ruined any opportunity that I had to, to minister to them, to reach them because I was just the guy that kept them from buying beer on Friday night. Yeah. Don’t mess with veterans beers, man. That’s right. You know, and so, yeah, you have to weigh, weigh these battles carefully. And, uh, in retrospect, I never would have, uh, uh, did that. And, uh, uh, I remember one of the And afterwards, I got a notice from the Ohio Attorney General, or it may have been the Secretary of State, and that I was in violation of election law. And somebody had turned me in because we had…

[38:14] Printed up these flyers, the handout, and we didn’t put on the bottom who paid for the flyers. And so it was a technicality, but I had to go through this whole rigmarole and promise that we would never, ever do it again. And it was a, you know, it was a rather expensive fine. And they, they waived the fine and whatnot. And, you know, and so, you know, it’s. Yeah, well, I can rest the listeners’ minds about this, is that Chris Avell is not being persecuted because he’s religious or he’s a Christian.

[38:54] Everybody that is wanting him to follow the zoning laws, they’re all Christians. Right. They go to church just like everybody else. Right. You know, I really do think that it’s a matter of it’s a homeless shelter. Right. That’s why it’s being targeted is because it’s a homeless shelter, not because it’s Christian. Right. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. I think if you and I, as the humanists of Williams County, you know, started a homeless shelter in the same building, we’d end up with the same problem because, you know, we’re violating the zoning law. So the only question to me is then, okay, so how do you resolve this? Because what ends up is, you know, I’ve read some comments in the national media about the city of Bryan and about Bryan leaders that, my God, they make the mayor of Bryan sound out like she’s, you know, Satan personified.

[39:54] And this is simply not true. You know, these are good people. There’s a difference of opinion here. And let me be clear, like you have said, that while there may be individual instances of persecution somewhere in the United States, generally not. Overwhelmingly, Christians are not persecuted in this country. You know, they’re inconvenienced. They’ve had their preferential place at the table challenged, perhaps, but they are not persecuted. They don’t have any idea what real persecution is. Yeah, that’s what happened this week against trans kids. That was persecution. Yes, absolutely. So you have these kind of minor skirmishes going on over here with this kind of And then you have, you know, the Republicans in the Ohio legislature doing things like this that are just, you know, they’re abomination, you know, and harmful, harmful to people. Well, I think that Pastor Chris Avell, he’s not going to be missing out any donations. I think he’s going to be making a lot of money off of this. I guess he’s already appeared on several conservative talk shows already, might be podcasts or radio shows. I think he was on Fox News. Was he on Fox News already?

[41:18] Got to go on Fox News. Yeah. So they’re going to be making a lot of money. And I really do. There’s a really good chance that he’s going to win his court case because that’s just the atmosphere that we’re in right now is that all they have to do is say they’re being persecuted and the courts tend to agree whether there is or there isn’t. And like I said, I really do think it’s just the fact that it’s a homeless shelter and the leaders of Bryan do not want more than one shelter in downtown. I really do. I really think that’s the crust of it. Yes. And so now the issue is, is how do you roll all this back, you know, without getting – because first of all, the city of Bryan is going to end up with a lot of legal expenses. I assume First Liberty is representing Pastor Avello, you know, free of charge. Yeah, they have two other law firms that are helping out. Right. You know, and so, you know, it’s the city that’s going to bear the brunt of this. And you’re well aware. I mean, there’s been this move in the last.

[42:29] 10, 20 years towards this really warped interpretation of church-state issues in this country. And we’ve kind of, you know, been going backwards as far as those issues are concerned. And it seems that the courts, they really do give churches and religion preferential treatment and uh uh and they they tend to you know have a very uh broad interpretation you know of the establishment clause and at the various laws that you know affect you know church and government relationships and uh um you know it you know there was a there was a day i think when people could sit down and you know and i’ve sat down with political leaders and said hey hey, how do we work this out? You know, I remember when we started the Christian school in Southeast Ohio, I mean, I was a thorn in the side of the local school superintendent. I mean, I was, you know, from them teaching evolution to, you know, sex ed class and all that. And so when I started the school, he was glad to see me go. He was glad, fine.

[43:47] He even gave me desks for our school. I mean, he said, here’s some desks we’re not using anymore. You’re welcome to them. And, you know, and he sat, he and I sat down and we talked and it was honestly just, it’s a difference of worldview, you know, and, and look, Chris is a fundamentalist. There’s no question about that. And he might great at that and, you know, that label, but his, his beliefs are, you know, are solidly evangelical, which I think are inherently fundamentalist. And uh you know and so he’s coming from a very literalist you know biblicist.

[44:29] Point of view and uh boy when you when you come from that point of view it’s it’s hard to bend sometimes because god says well you know the holy spirit told me you know and uh you know well what What do you do with that? If the Holy Spirit told you to, you know, house people in your church and to feed them and whatnot, and then, boy, it’s hard to say no to God, you know. And, of course, for us, we’re looking at it and say, well, it’s not God telling. It’s something you want to do, you know, whatever your motivations are. And I think his motivations are, for the most part, noble and honorable. And I think that he just wants to help people and he’s always been the type of guy that, you know had seems to have a genuine interest in you know in helping other people all right well uh bruce i really appreciate you joining us today to talk about this issue i’m sure it’s going to be, an issue for quite some time maybe uh depends on how uh how intractable the city is and how intractable chris becomes yes with his newfound friends um and i do want to note too that brian Zion is not too far from Hillsdale College. Yes, yes, yeah. The kingdom of conservative Christianity.

[45:53] Yeah, and I’d be surprised if they don’t, to some degree, maybe weigh in on this. Yeah, they’re, what, 25, 30 miles away maybe at the most. Right.

[46:05] So we’ll hear what Betsy DeVos has to say, I guess. Yes. All right. Thanks a lot. I appreciate your time. Yes, thanks, Doug. Well, I hope you enjoyed my interview with Bruce Gerencer. I think we got a lot of points discussed and some things. He didn’t really change my mind on anything. I really, you know, I came right out and came into it believing that Pastor Revell violating, he shouldn’t be allowed to violate the zoning codes, especially when it comes to public health and safety. Uh brian ohio and williams county has a serious homelessness problem as all rural communities do and they need serious uh you know deal with it in a serious manner since that interview since we did that interview a couple weeks ago um there was some movement in the case in that city of brian dropped the criminal charges against Pastor Avell. It seems that they came to some kind of mutual agreement.

[47:11] That they would work, Dad’s Place Church would work towards, you know, abiding by the zoning regulations. And the city of Bryan agreed to drop the criminal charges. They did leave in place the ability to refile the charges in the future. I think they call that with prejudice or something something like that. Some kind of legal term. The federal court case is still active.

[47:42] They are due to have a hearing about that on March the 4th. So I don’t know how that’s going to turn out. The Toledo Blade had a write up about this update and I copied it, you know, printed it out. And so I’m going to upload it on the show notes so you can keep, keep up on it. But as of right now, uh, Chris Lavelle’s criminal charges have gone away. Uh, he claims he’s still going to continue to house homeless people. So I don’t know how long that’s going to be, but, but the main thing to, to realize is that dad’s place was not doing anything to move those people that he was helping to permanent housing. That’s what homeless shelters are supposed to do. Homeless shelters are supposed to be temporary.

[48:36] And so what they do is they give services to people and connect them with social service agencies and other groups in order to move them to permanent housing. Now, I guess in the agreement where the city dropped the charges, Pastor Avell agreed to work with with some of the social service agencies in the county, in Williams County, to try and move these people to permanent housing. So that’s a positive, you know? And so we’ll see how that works out and I’ll keep people up to date as we move along. Thank you for joining us.

[49:14] Thank you for listening. For more information about the topics in this episode, please visit the episode page at glasscityhumanist.show. Glass City Humanist is an outreach of the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie. SHoWLE can be reached at humanistswle.org. Glass City Humanist is hosted, written, and produced by Douglas Berger, and he’s solely responsible for the content. Our theme music is Glass City Jam composed using the Amplify Studio. See you next time!

Transcript is machine generated, lightly edited, and approximate to what was recorded. If you would like perfect transcripts, please donate to the show.

Credits

Written, produced, and edited by Douglas Berger and he is entirely responsible for the content. Incidental voice overs by Shawn Meagley

The GCH theme is “Glass City Jam” composed using Ampify Studio

This episode by Glass City Humanist is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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