Phil Groom writes:
This isn’t so much about the Brewers as for them; for Philip (Phil) W and Mildred B (Beth) Brewer in particular, and for their neighbours in Bountiful, Tucson, Arizona. There’s been a dispute running between Phil and Beth and their neighbours (pdf | html | Links broken? Try a Google Search for P21-06-033), running parallel to our own disputes with them here in the UK. It even blew up at around the same time, late 2006, all to do with the Brewers’ building plans and their neighbours’ concerns; and if you’ve been following asingleblog’s conversation with ‘Tucson Observer’ then you’ll know that the neighbours’ concerns have yet to be entirely allayed even though the Pima County Board of Supervisors’ Meeting (alternative link) apparently wanted to uphold the neighbours’ appeal:
Given the way that Phil Brewer has ridden roughshod over the concerns and interests of British booksellers, I guess it’s hardly surprising to find him doing the same with his neighbours back home. He seems to have been much politer in his correspondence with his neighbours, couching everything in religiosity and oozing with apparent concern, than he has been with people here; although we’ve seen the same pattern here in many ways: all sweetness and light when dealing with public media outlets such as the BBC, the Bookseller and Christian Marketplace; but utter contemptuousness and dictatorial obnoxiousness in his direct memos to staff.
His neighbours weren’t fooled for a moment, though, and saw straight through the sugar-coated language to the poison pill beneath: “We felt like Mr Brewer was being dishonest at the administrative hearing…” said one group; “I am extremely opposed to this idea on the basis of being used like a pawn for the Brewers financial gain.” wrote another neighbour.
But as I said at the beginning of this piece, this post isn’t so much about the Brewers as for them; because the Brewers’ dispute with their neighbours seems to have something in common with another dispute I’ve come across recently. A Christian organisation I know here in the UK — but which I’m not going to name — has some major building redevelopment plans underway; their neighbours have objected to those plans; and those objections have been upheld by the Planning Authority: planning permission has been denied.
How the organisation intends to respond has yet to be revealed; but a letter from one member of staff came my way which, I think, expresses the way Christians should respond to their neighbours. If you should read this, Mr Brewer, then know that this is for you, too: may you find your way out of your wilderness of obsession with personal financial gain to encounter God’s grace; may that grace find its way from your heart to unlock your wallet to pay those whose wages you have withheld; and may you learn to love your neighbours in truth and in deed rather than only in fine sounding words.
Names have been removed to preserve anonymity:
I’d heard that concerns had been raised by our neighbours and I think it’s not only right and proper that the Planning Committee have heard those concerns but even more important that we as a Christian community should hear them too.
My question, quite simply, is what is ultimately more important: [our] dreams of expansion or our relationship with our neighbours? In view of the neighbours’ concerns — whether we either as individuals or at an organisational level regard those concerns as valid or not — could it ever be right to press ahead and risk alienating our neighbours in this way? Jesus said that love of God and love of neighbour are the hinge upon which everything else hangs.
Would not an attempt to ride roughshod over our neighbours’ concerns — even if done via due process of law and planning procedures — be contrary to the Gospel? If [we are] to be a beacon of light in this area, if [we are] to be the Good News here in [this town], we must think very seriously indeed about where this leaves us.
Some, I suspect, will perceive the denial of planning permission as an attack of the devil. I suggest that it is nothing of the sort: is it not rather a clash of values — Gospel values over commercial values? [Are we] in danger of being driven by commercial values rather than Gospel values?
We are now in Lent: in Lent we are called to travel with Jesus into the wilderness, to fast and pray, to resist temptation, to listen to the voice of the Spirit. Is this development the voice of the Spirit driving [us] into the wilderness, so to speak, to take stock once again of where we are and how we move ahead?
Let’s listen to our neighbours and do everything possible to work with them, not alienate them; and if [our] dreams, like [our] Lord, are to be crucified as a result, let it be so for now. Resurrection must be in God’s time, not ours.