SC Pastors Opposed to County Proposal to Allow Bars Next to Churches

Pastors in a county in the heart of South Carolina are expressing their opposition to a local government proposal that would remove the zoning buffers between bars and houses of worship.

Richland County Council is presently considering a move to drop the buffer system, which would allow bars to be built and to operate right next to churches.  At a Council meeting held Tuesday evening, churches from multiple neighborhoods protested the possible removal of a 500-foot buffer between bars and churches in the Richland area.

The Reverend John W. Culp, pastor at Virginia Wingard United Methodist Church in Columbia, told The Christian Post that "our ground is sacred too."  "A bar shouldn't be near a church that has a nursery or a preschool. I have an AA that meets in my church. Why should I want a reformed alcoholic coming out and there he is facing a bar?" said Culp.  "I have a Montessori School that meets in the basement of my church, I got an AA that meets in my church and they were trying to say that church only meet at 11:00 on Sunday which is ridiculous."

Endorsed by the County Planning Commission and proposed by Councilman Norman Jackson of Lower Richland, the proposal would allow for bars to be built next to churches, says local media.  The present ordinance for Richland prohibits bars to be opened within several hundred feet of churches or schools. Jackson motioned to remove churches from the ordinance, however, because of the feedback he opted to withdraw it.

"The church is a sacred place and we have a place in society," said Culp, adding that he felt a possible arrival of a bar could be a hazard to his church and his neighborhood.  "I don't mind going into bars witnessing to people," added Culp, "I know we got alcohol in our society and that's not the point."

The South Carolina pastors' efforts against the buffer removal bear a resemblance to a similar situation in Augusta County, Va., in late 2011.  Mount Bethel Baptist Church members voiced their objections before the Augusta County Board of Zoning Appeals when a local one-man brewery sought to set up shop on property adjacent to their sanctuary.  Mount Bethel stated that they opposed the brewery over the belief that its close proximity to their church could make it harder for them to encourage young people to abstain from alcohol.

As to the status of the proposal, Jim Manning, Councilman for Richland County District 8, told The Christian Post that it was considered dead with Jackson's retraction at the Tuesday meeting.  "It was killed by the maker of the motion. Always pleased to hear from the constituents, Pastors or anyone else," said Manning.

Richland Councilman Seth Rose echoed Manning, telling CP that "I do believe that [Jackson] intended something different and he decided to also vote to get rid of it."