The Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board is suing the city of Clarkston, Georgia as the town's city council stands in the way of plans related to a proposed $10 million Send Relief ministry center.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the lawsuit was filed last week in the Superior Court of DeKalb County.
The document accuses the Clarkston government of unlawfully halting progress on a proposed missionary center by not approving a permit allowing the SBC entity to demolish two uninhabitable homes from the early 1900s located on property that it owns.
NAMB, the domestic missions agency of the SBC, owns the Clarkston International Bible Church and seeks to build a massive Send Relief ministry center that will be spread out across four blocks and include spaces for missionary housing, a medical center, parking, a gym, and training center.
According to Baptist Press, NAMB purchased the congregation's property in May 2018 as part of a partnership to replace the church's aging buildings.
The historic church became the first of NAMB's seven new Send Relief ministry centers.
According to its website, Send Relief aims to provide resources, training experiences and events to help churches engage in relief work for those in crisis. The Send Relief center in Clarkston will focus on providing aid to "refugees and internationals."
NAMB President Kevin Ezell told Baptist Press that NAMB filed demolition permits for the two houses on April 26. However, the Clarkston City Council imposed a "moratorium" four days later that barred any demolition applications from being processed.
As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes, the city created a preservation commission earlier this year and several blocks of downtown Clarkston had been marked as places that could become a historic preservation district.
The NAMB lawsuit contends, however, that the city is required to process the application because it was submitted prior to the moratorium going into effect.
NAMB's plans frustrated some residents who want the historic homes to remain. Critics assert that NAMB did not properly communicate its plan for the megacenter with neighbors.
“It adds charm to that residential area. That house provides character to the community,” Clarkston resident and former council member Beverly Burks told the Atlanta Constitution-Journal.
“The church really needs to continue to work with the community and rebuild a level of trust that was damaged by this whole process."
As the town has been labeled the "most ethnically diverse square mile in America," Burks also explained that members of the town's Muslim community are concerned that the mission center will try to convert members of other faiths to Christianity.
In its lawsuit, NAMB stated that it seeks to build the campus in Clarkston because of the towns' large refugee population.
In an interview with The Christian Index, Ezell warned that actions such as those taken by the Clarkston City Council should be of concern to churches everywhere.
“We own property and … to retroactively do this violates our basic rights," Ezell was quoted as saying. "This is not only to protect our property but others. It could affect other churches. Who’s to say where it can stop?”