On radio this morning, Glenn shared the story of Pastor Robert Dekker of the New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Lewes, Delaware, who was denied the permits to host a Sunday morning service on Rehoboth Beach because of ‘separation of church of state.’
After writing to the Rehoboth Beach city manager to request the permits to host eight weeks of early morning Sunday morning services this summer on Rehoboth Beach, Pastor Dekker reportedly received this written response:
I'm sorry to inform you that I can't grant your request to have church services on the public beach in Rehoboth. I cannot mix church and state. I trust you understand. Wishing you the very best.
But Pastor Dekker is refusing to back down. He has decided to go ahead with a beach service on July Fourth that he has aptly named ‘Line in the Sand.’ He has been circulating the flyer below, encouraging those in the area to join him Thursday morning in “defiance of tyranny.”
After reading the story on air, Glenn wanted to speak to Pastor Dekker and he joined for an interview to talk about why he has chosen to go ahead with his service despite the town’s refusal to grant permits.
“Pastor, thank you for standing up and having a spine. Thank you for doing what very few pastors in our country are actually doing,” Glenn said. “So tell me, why would you do this?”
“Well, interesting thing, we live in a beautiful area down here by the beaches of Delaware, and a lot of this was spared because with so many people coming, we want to have church for them. And when you double the population, it's hard, hard to get around traffic‑wise. We want to have an early service on Sunday morning and so it seemed to be pretty logical to have it down along the beach there,” Pastor Dekker explained. “And so we went to the formal patterns of sending in a request to be able to have a service by the sand, and basically the response was that we don't mix church with state. So we ended up backing away from that, which was sad to me because, you know, there are services by the sand down at Bethany Beach and even further – in other beach communities that are not too far away. Some of my pastor friends are doing those. So I was saddened by that. But that's kind of the reality.”
“When the idea of doing something on July 4th, a freedom rally, to be able to gather together and honor the whole thing about the, you know, the freedoms we have here in America, that were not free, they were at the price of somebody,” he continued. “When I was out to participate and join in and being able to preach, I thought that would be great because my goal as a pastor is to communicate the Gospel by word and by deed to ourselves and to our neighbors that the wonders of God's grace in Christ might be made known.”
Pastor Dekker emphasized that he is not comfortable with the language of tyranny and the language of defiance, but in this case he felt as though his congregation was denied the right to assemble for no obvious reason.
“I mean, the fact that we weren't given permission to do so and it seems that there's no real reason why we wouldn't, there's no law on the books that says we couldn't, but nevertheless, that's the way that it is in today's world,” he said. “And so this idea of being defiant is not – it's not the message of the Gospel. The message that is being preached, even drawing a line in the sand, is coming from the text where Jesus actually got down in the sand and drew in the line, drew some of the lines. We don't even know what he wrote, but it was pretty potent because it had a great effect on those that were around him.”
“Most people just cave when they hear it's a separation of church and state issue,” Pat said. “It's so refreshing to see someone take a stand for this.”
It is interesting that the town chose to deny Pastor Dekker’s request under the guise of separation of church and state, but, in reality, the town’s decision has denied the church’s freedom of religion and freedom of assembly found in the First Amendment.
“Did you remind [the city manager] that this has nothing to do with the First Amendment,” Pat asked. “I mean, that the First Amendment reads that Congress shall not make a law respecting the establishment of a religion and this is nothing like that?”
“If you're walking in the shoes of those that are in the trenches, you know, they're holding the position, I think people want peace. I think they don't want to have any controversy,” Pastor Dekker said. “I kind of feel that the reason why we were denied or the reason why that the request, the letter to have a service by the sand was rejected was so that there wouldn't be any hostility, so that there wouldn't be any ugliness… I mean, I applaud the guy for wanting to have a beautiful situation. I just believe as a pastor that one of the best things we can do for southern Delaware as well as for the U.S., even for the world is that when you preach the Good News that there is forgiveness, that there is hope, not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to God's mercy he saves us. “
“Let me tell you something, Pastor. Let me tell you something. You communicating the truth is valuable in today's world. A rare commodity unfortunately,” Glenn said. “I thank you so much, and best of luck to you and stand strong. Thank you so much, Pastor.”