On social media a couple of weeks ago, I viewed a video that a minister in Mississippi posted on the forum. It seems that the mayor of Greenville, MS issued an order prohibiting “drive-in services.”
Pastor Charles E. Hamilton, Jr. founded the King James Bible Baptist Church seven years ago. The church is an “Independent, Fundamental, Old-Fashion, Bible-Believing, Soul-winning Baptist Church,” according to the church Facebook page and Pastor Hamilton, who is bi-vocational, receives no salary from the church.
He drives an hour and a half each way to his day job as a car salesman.
In addition to preaching and pastoring, Hamilton leads his people in visiting the people in the city in door-to-door visitation. He also does street preaching. The church has a number of ministries, including: a jail ministry, prison ministry, public school ministry, Sunday School classes, a bus ministry, evangelism classes for both youth and adults, a discipleship program, a radio ministry, and more.
Pastor Hamilton, believing that the City of Greenville did not have authority to ban drive-in services, and, believing that his church was compliant with CDC guidelines, decided to go ahead with drive-in services where people would remain in their cars.
He did so believing that the U. S. Constitution and the First Amendment trumped the mayor’s edict. He also believed that his “biblical rights” (“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, ‘We ought to obey God rather than men,’” Acts 5:29 KJV and “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching“ Hebrews 10:25 KJV), compelled him to disregard the city’s direction.
When he arrived at the church for services, he found twenty police cars crowded into his church’s parking lot. One must understand that King James Bible Baptist Church is not a large church. He was told that anyone who came to the service would be ticketed.
In response, he began to video the police action. I watched the entire video. At one point, when he stated that his rights were being violated, a white police officer told him that his “rights were suspended.”
I should mention here that Pastor Hamilton is black. It was a chilling reminder of the bad old days in a segregated South where the civil rights of blacks were “suspended” all the time.
I sent a letter to The Honorable Errick D. Simmons, Mayor of the City of Greenville, MS In which I wrote:
“A few days ago I viewed a video posted on social media by the pastor of the King James Bible Baptist Church in your community. Doubtless, you are aware that some 20 police cars and at least that many officers were crowded into the church parking lot to issue tickets to anyone coming to the services of the church.
Three things about this scene troubled me:
1) Why in the world would it require that many police officers to deal with this issue? Two officers could easily have accomplished the task. As someone who spent 25 years as a law enforcement chaplain, including a stint with the Atlanta Division of the FBI, I find this disturbing. “Overkill” is much too mild a term.
2) One of the police officers informed the pastor that his “rights had been suspended.” I wasn’t aware that anyone could suspend constitutional rights and, in fact, no one can. The fact that it was a white police officer telling a black pastor that, in short, he had no rights, smacked of days gone by in a segregated South.
3) After several minutes of the pastor videoing the situation, about ten or so police cars left the parking lot. However, they only went a short distance down the road and pulled over to the side of the road. Obviously, they had no intention of leaving. The intimidation was obvious.
If I were the pastor of King James Bible Baptist Church, I would be seeking the counsel of a civil rights attorney. At the very least, your police chief and officers need to be trained in the meaning of the Bill of Rights and particularly the First Amendment.
The wording is: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
No local government can impede, overthrow, or ignore constitutional rights. I would have thought people in the South, and I am a life-long Southerner, would understand that better than anybody.
At the very least, in my opinion, this is extremely bad national publicity for Greenville, MS, and, at worst, an abuse of police power and a violation of civil rights. I trust you will look into this matter and apologize to the pastor and church congregation.”
To be fair, I do not believe this was a situation about race. Mayor Simmons is also black, as were several of the police officers. What I do believe is that it was a gross overstepping of governmental authority.
Apparently, I was not the only person to stand with the pastor and his church. The situation garnered statewide and even national attention. The pastor did retain a lawyer and papers were drawn up but the mayor and the city reversed themselves and dropped opposition to drive-in church services. Pastor Hamilton decided not to sue the city.
On Tuesday of last week, Pastor Hamilton released a video in which he expressed support and respect for the mayor and police officers of Greenville. Going a step further, he also announced that “It was a blessing to feed 45 people who work at the Greenville Police Department today.”
On his social media page, on April 28, the pastor wrote. “Before I met Jesus 18 years ago, I was miserable, angry, full of bitterness, had no hope, hate in my heart, and I was living a life full of sin. Jesus Christ has truly made a world of different in my life. Every day I always wonder how would life be for me right now and where would I be if I wasn’t saved and serving the Lord Jesus. Lord, I can’t thank you enough for how far you have brought me and for being so good to me!!” In these words are found the passion that the pastor has for God, the Bible, preaching, and the ministry of the church.
Although Pastor Hamilton and I would disagree on a number of doctrinal issues, it is an honor to stand with this brother Christian and fellow pastor. May God bless him, his flock, and all the people in Greenville, Mississippi.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the crisis, the church is live streaming at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays at http://www.facebook.com/cctksharpsburg/ He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]