(Photo: The Christian Post/Nicola Menzie)
Some 60 churches may be left homeless as a ban that prohibits worship services at New York City public schools takes effect on Sunday. While churchgoers continue to fight the ban, some are also crying foul over the lack of support from megachurches.
New York's megachurches have been mostly silent on the issue since the Supreme Court refused to hear the case of a Bronx congregation that tried to secure access to a public school auditorium for Sunday services. Some New York City church leaders wonder why the large churches have not done anything to help.
Pastor Bill Devlin of Manhattan Bible Church has helped lead the Right to Worship protests since the beginning. He told The Christian Post that a steering committee made up of 10 pastors affected by the ban came to him and asked, "Where are these pastors who have these huge churches? They have been absolutely silent."
Devlin said they have tried contacting large churches that have their own buildings, and the "major response we've gotten from big dog churches and pastors is, 'We'll pray for you.'"
He has personally approached some megachurch pastors in the NYC area as well. Last December, at the mayor's Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, he said he spoke with A.R. Bernard, pastor of the Christian Cultural Center, one of the largest evangelical churches in the city. Devlin told Bernard: "We need your help."
Bernard responded, "I'm working on the inside," according to Devlin.
Bernard told The Christian Post that he has been in conversations with both the Chancellor of New York City Schools and the mayor's office. But he also said that "nothing has changed up to this point. The deadline in their minds is still set for the 12th. They have their reasons."
Since the Supreme Court decision in December, hundreds have held protests outside schools, City Hall, and the Department of Law against the ban, set by the city's Department of Education. The deadline banning the use of schools by churches is scheduled for Feb. 12.
Bernard told CP that they are in support of the churches and that they did have people at the protests, as well as their own media outlet covering the event.
But Devlin said in a deadline crunch like this, numbers matter. Bernard's church claims to have more than 29,000 people who attend. Devlin said he told Bernard, "With all due respect, we need you on the inside and the outside. This has a time limit."
NYC Councilman Fernando Cabrera is also the pastor of New Life Outreach International church in the Bronx. He has been very involved in the protests. He told CP, "I've been very disappointed with those who call themselves fathers in the city, who have megachurches and have not stepped up. They are happy they have a building. I have mine as well, what about the other people?
"Maybe some [megachurches] are working behind the scenes, but this is not the time for that. This is the time for a frontal attack."
Tim Keller's Redeemer Presbyterian Church has also garnered criticism for not taking a stand on the issue, especially since five churches affiliated with Redeemer meet in public schools across the city.
Devlin said he left a personal note for Keller at Redeemer asking for his help. "Keller and I went through the same seminary (Westminster). He signed my diploma. He was a professor of Practical Theology."
One of the churches affiliated with Redeemer, Infinity NY Church, almost lost its contract with the New York City Housing Authority.
Dimas Salaberrios, pastor of Infinity, has been fighting to keep his church's space at the Bronx River Community Center after the NYCHA told them its lease was going to expire, and they would have to move by February.
He and a number of congregants staged a protest at the New York City Law Department offices where Salaberrios, and other participants, were arrested while praying.
Salaberrios told CP in a previous interview, "New York City Law Department is working on getting rid of churches from community centers. Now they're targeting us."
Neither Keller nor any other spokesperson for Redeemer would agree to multiple requests for an interview, but the church did issue a statement to CP. "Redeemer has been actively engaged with the pastors who have been directly affected by the school decision. We have hosted daily prayer meetings for them and are providing support as we can."
There have been parishioners and congregants from these larger churches who have showed up to the prayer events and vigils, Devlin acknowledged. But "for the most part it's the pastors and their people who have flesh in the game, who are getting their nose bloodied."
He accused pastors of New York City's megachurches of lacking courage and said he is not sure what they are afraid of.
"These are your brothers in Christ," he stressed. "These are not some activists from Occupy Wall Street. These are men that are in the same gospel ministry as you are. They happen to have more people of color, more poor people, more of the meek the weak, more low-income. They don't have a building. These big dog pastors, they are lacking courage."