Athens Review, Athens, Texas

Local News

December 9, 2011

‘The time is now’

Area pastors meet, discuss rally expected to attract hundreds if not more

ATHENS — The “occupy” movement is headed to Athens, Texas — even if it’s not packaged, as seen on TV.

A group of 73 local and area pastors, ministers and others met Friday at Sand Springs Baptist Church in Athens to discuss a rally on the west side of the Henderson County Courthouse square next Saturday, Dec. 17, beginning at noon.

The event, which is being called the “Henderson County Nativity Rally,”  could draw hundreds of people, if not more. Organizers are hoping Christians of various denominations will gather — just as their leaders did at Friday’s meeting.

The focus, however, will not be on the source of the controversy — the nativity scene located on the southeast corner of the courthouse lawn.

The rally was organized in response to news this week that county officials had received a demand that the nativity scene be removed. The demand was made by Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The organization cites Supreme Court rulings supporting its stance that the display is unconstitutional. The county, meanwhile, released a statement Thursday saying it believes it is within its legal right to let the display remain.

“The reality is that this is not a political fight,” said First Baptist Church of Malakoff Pastor Dr. Nathan Lorick, who is serving as spokesperson for the event. “The reason for this really is to unite believers for a spiritual awakening.... Our main priority is not to defend a symbol of our faith, but to defend our faith.”

Pastors shared details of the rally at Friday’s meeting, and asked those on-hand to communicate the message to their individual congregations. Lorick asked pastors to urge their members to attend in large numbers, and to be “loving and merciful,” and “bold” in their faith.

What organizers do not want, Lorick said, is for the message to get lost in angry rhetoric aimed toward those who don’t want the nativity scene to remain.

“We’ve already won in the courts,” said the Rev. Ken Calhoun of First United Methodist Church in Athens, who attended Friday’s meeting. “It’s our game to lose in the court of public opinion.”

Robert Welch, senior pastor at Rock Hill Baptist Church in Brownsboro, said the rally will include Christmas music and patriotic tunes, and pastors from various churches will offer prayers after each person speaks.

“In a sense, there’s going to be a worship aspect about this,” Welch said.

There will also be a discussion of many of the major issues facing the county — including drug abuse, child abuse and poverty. Organizers say they are working to provide those in attendance with specific information regarding how they can reach out as Christians, and assist in meeting the needs of those groups.

“We ought to be as passionate about those things as we are about this,” Lorick said.

The rally isn’t the only response planned by the pastors.

At the suggestion of First Baptist Church of Athens Pastor Dr. Kyle Henderson, area congregations plan to stage a “living” nativity scene using people instead of plastic figures. Though details were still being worked out Friday afternoon, Henderson said he hopes the effort can begin sometime next week.

“It’s like the occupy movement at the courthouse, but with the love of Jesus and the message of Jesus,” Henderson said.

The issue regarding the nativity scene has gained nationwide attention. Lorick himself has given an interview on the Fox News Channel, and media organizations from California to New York have reported on it.

Lorick said FFRF officials are invited to attend the rally, and that he is seeking to open a dialogue with the group. FFRF, he said, targeted 30 to 35 municipalities and government organizations last year regarding their displays of nativity scenes, and said this year that it has filed or threatened lawsuits against a dozen more.

“There’s really not been a group of people who stood up, and said, ‘We’re not backing down,’” Lorick said. “This is a chance for us to stand up and say, ‘We believe Jesus is our Lord, and we believe this is our moment to stand, and contend for our faith.

“If we have ever had an opportunity to stand up and make such a statement, that time is now.”

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