We hear it all the time from politicians, public figures and members of the general populace. It’s an ideal idea, which for years has functioned as a universal rejoinder to any perceived slight of anything remotely related to religion, or religiosity, in Cayman.
Whether we’re inquiring about hazardous obstructions of public roadways and roundabouts, restrictions on private business operations (such as Sunday trading laws), or obvious instances of outright squandering of taxpayer dollars – when it has anything to do with churches, anything at all, the likely response we receive is: “We are a Christian nation.”
In light of a story appearing recently in the Cayman Compass, our self-attested reputation may have to be reexamined, reevaluated, and perhaps revised.
Consider the case of Grand Cayman’s Bethel Refuge Apostolic Church, to whom the Central Planning Authority denied planning approval for a $1 million, 400-seat church on the inland side of Shamrock Road, close to Spotts Newland Road.
Now located in the heart of Prospect Park, and claiming a growing congregation of 150-plus members (whom the pastor describes as being of “Caymanian, Cuban, Jamaican, African and Honduras origins”), Bethel Refuge sought permission to build a new 8,300-square-foot sanctuary on an acre of land in an area which, according to the Planning Department’s analysis, includes apartments, houses, the “light industrial” LIME telephone building, a primary school and another church.
A group of neighbors filed objections to the project, arguing that the new church “will not be in keeping with the character of the neighborhood,” “will adversely affect the property values of the existing owners in the neighborhood,” and “will create a traffic hazard.” Additionally, they argue that “the community of Savannah … currently has at least four existing churches and is adequately served.”
Cayman’s contagion of NIMBYism (“Not In My Back Yard”), it seems, has spread beyond Seven Mile Beach hotels and Bodden Town landfills, and now applies to proposed churches in Savannah.
Lest any non-Caymanian become scapegoat for the church’s rejection, observe that every single one of the six individuals who attended the Planning Authority’s meeting in order to oppose the church project are registered Caymanian voters.
The appointed members of the Planning Authority (also 100-percent Caymanian), sided against Bethel Refuge’s application, saying that the church “will detract from the ability of neighboring land owners to enjoy the amenity of the area.” Tossing out an antithetical analysis by the National Roads Authority, the Planning Authority unilaterally decreed that the church “will create traffic safety problems.”
Administering the coup de grace, the Planning Authority decided that the church should not be treated as a 400-seat facility at all, but as a 600-seat facility — and thereby upwardly revised the minimum required number of parking spaces from 50 (as depicted in the church’s plans) to 75. And thus the church’s application was denied.
While the objections to the church may arrive as a shock to some, the Planning Authority’s maneuvering will surprise no one who faithfully follows the board’s proceedings, in which a variant of the doctrine of “predestination” often seems to prevail — parting the sea of red tape for the “right” applicants, and overthrowing the others in its midst.
The next time a question is raised in earnest about the government’s disparate standards of accountability for church activities, or apparent favoritism shown toward specific denominations at the expense of other religious or non-religious groups, we fully expect the same predictable reply: “We are a Christian nation.”
But please, forgive us if we appear to be rolling our eyes — We’re simply looking to the Heavens and praying for serenity.