The ongoing battle between Los Angeles County and Grace Community Church’s Pastor John MacArthur has taken another bizarre turn. As you may recall, the county has lost a series of court battles where it attempted to prevent Pastor John from holding indoor services, seeking to impose stiff fines on the church if he failed to comply with the county’s mandates. With the next phase of California’s reopening looming and indoor services (with social distancing protocols in place) set to resume, you might think that everyone would return to their corners and let this ugly bit of history slide into the memory hole.
Not so, apparently. Having been unable to force Pastor John’s hand, the county has now announced that they are evicting the church from its parking area that is leased from the county. And if any of the church’s property in that parking area isn’t promptly removed, it will be confiscated. If that sounds like a petty, spiteful maneuver to you, well… that’s probably because it is.
A California church challenged local coronavirus restrictions on worship services, and county authorities responded by canceling the church’s five-decade-old lease.
County officials informed Grace Community Church that it will terminate its decades-old lease on a parking lot after the church filed a lawsuit over local restrictions against in-person worship. The county told the church in a letter it intends to terminate the lease of a large section of the parking lot that the church leases, threatening to forcibly remove any of the church’s property that remained in the lot.
“If Grace fails to vacate the premise as required, the District may enter the premises and remove Grace’s personal property in accordance with the Agreement and applicable law, and Grace will be responsible for any resultant expenses incurred by the District,” the letter states.
The church has been leasing that parking area continually since 1975. There are no records indicating that they have been delinquent in paying the rent or that misuse of the parking area or other violations have taken place. So what else explains the sudden decision to revoke the lease?
An attorney for the church described this maneuver as “the essence of tyranny.”
Jenna Ellis, special counsel to the Thomas More Society, said the move is meant to punish a religious organization for requesting the same privileges afforded to protesters. She accused county officials of attempting to “abuse their power through burdensome, restrictive, and unconstitutional orders” and retaliate against those who object.
“L.A. County is clearly trying to evict Grace Church from use of their parking lot for no other reason than because Pastor John [MacArthur] stood firm and is challenging their power,” she said. “This is the essence of tyranny.”
The point that the church has been making along isn’t solely based on the First Amendment rights of the Pastor and his flock. They have repeatedly pointed out that huge gatherings of Black Lives Matter protesters have been congregating in the same area in numbers that far exceed the maximum capacity of the church. These protests and gathers frequently include hundreds of people who do not wear masks or observe social distancing protocols. (The church complies with all such protocols during services, including disinfecting the premises spacing out seating between individual congregants and family groups.) Yet the county has yet to take action against any of the members of the mobs in the streets. Clearly, Grace Community Church has been singled out for special enforcement tactics.
Obviously, what the county’s leaders are doing is throwing a very public tantrum against a Man of the Cloth who refuses to bend a knee to the County Executive and the rest of the government. That’s at least one area where Pastor John agrees with them. He bends a knee only to the Lord.
There is another court hearing scheduled for Friday when Los Angeles County will once again seek to either shut down the church or impose tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Stay tuned. Pastor John MacArthur clearly feels that he is wearing the Whole Armour of God and has no intention of backing down.