(Photo: Reuters/ Stefan Wermuth)
Fla. pastors from Christian congregations have expressed their concern over the strong presence of the Church of Scientology in their community.
Clergy from Clearwater, a city in which Scientology recently dedicated a massive building to their operations, have expressed their misgivings about the controversial religious sect.
Jeff Rudolph, pastor at Clearwater First Assembly of God, told The Christian Post that he remains surprised that people are so willing to believe the claims of Scientology.
"It's amazing to me that people believe their whole story in the first place!! An alien galactic ruler named 'Xenu'?" said Rudolph, adding, "I shake my head in disbelief, but the truth is people believe them and their story. Its sad."
Rudolph also told CP that it is "discouraging to drive through downtown Clearwater every day and see the hundreds of people all dressed in their uniform, serving a false God."
William Rice, senior pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, told The Christian Post that he considered the strong presence of Scientology in Clearwater to be "a great sorrow to us."
"I would say that a vast majority of people in our area view Scientology in a negative fashion and with great distrust. Regardless of religious beliefs or church affiliation, most people here do not trust the Church of Scientology," said Rice.
"They have a long history of lies and deception. Even the events surrounding this opening have been characterized by arrogance and disregard for the normal laws and regulations of our city."
The pastors' remarks came as the Church of Scientology celebrated the opening of a 377,000 square-foot building in Clearwater known as the Flag Building.
Reportedly the largest edifice in Clearwater, the Flag Building was dedicated Sunday before an audience of thousands that included celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
The $145 million facility had been under construction for about 15 years, and now completed will serve as a place for Scientologists to practice the "super power" program of their founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
On Sunday, much of the dedication ceremony was done in secret and away from public eyes, according to ABC News.
"Only Scientologists, such as Cruise, Travolta and [Kelly Preston], were allowed inside the building after an eight-minute dedication ceremony led by church leader David Miscavige," reads an ABC News blog entry.
"The ceremony was kept strictly private by hundreds of church volunteers who policed the building's perimeter to keep onlookers, including the media, out."
Rudolph of Clearwater First Assembly told CP that regarding the imposing Scientology presence "the church of Jesus Christ needs to do a better job in reaching our world."
"We need to pray, we need to get to work with our hands, our testimony, our mouth, our wallets and every available means to spread the Gospel of Jesus to our city," said Rudolph.
"We also need to learn more about them so that we can be a better witness for Jesus and to speak truth into their lives if the occasion arises."
Rice of Calvary Baptist told CP that there needed to be more awareness of "this dangerous group" among everyday Americans.
"We need to be better informed so we can have intelligent discussions with those in and out of Scientology," said Rice.
"We need to pray that their unethical conduct will continue to be exposed (as has started to happen with several recent books) and that their doctrine will be seen for the deception that it truly is."
The Church of Scientology did not return comment to The Christian Post by press time.