A church in Norwich, Ontario pressured businesses to close on Sundays... or else
The minister has allegedly told business owners "If you stay open on Sunday, you'll be out of business."
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I posted recently about the damage that can occur when conservative Christians take over a public school board, but what happens when they indirectly take over a small town?
In the Township of Norwich, in southwestern Ontario, Christians don’t run the government but they have enough social power to get what they want. That includes pressuring every business in the community to remain closed on Sundays, in order to honor the Sabbath.
You may have heard that some places in the U.S. still have “blue laws” on the books, preventing the sale of certain items (like liquor) on Sundays. Those laws are technically legal, but over the years, many municipalities and state governments have loosened or repealed those rules. It’s not just because they’re faith-based. If your town won’t sell you what you want when you want it, it’s probably not too difficult to drive a town or two over and give them your business instead.
Canada had a national “Lord's Day Act” prohibiting business transactions on Sundays that was in place from 1906 until 1985, when the Supreme Court finally declared it unconstitutional. You still couldn’t shop on Sundays in Ontario, however, because it had a provincial “Retail Business Holiday Act” that was secular in nature (and therefore not running afoul of the Supreme Court’s ruling). It wasn’t until the 1990s that social pressure forced the government to change course.
Now it’s up to individual cities to decide how they want to handle Sunday commerce. And in Norwich, the influence of one powerful church, the Netherlands Reformed Congregation, has basically shut down the economy on Sundays.
It’s not that the law requires businesses to close on Sundays or that church members refuse to spend any money that day. It’s far more sinister than that, according to the Canadian Press:
"There's a big influence here from a certain religious group," said James Forrest, a professor at the University of Waterloo who has lived in Norwich Township for over 18 years with his family.
"I know people that have tried to open businesses and be open on a Sunday and they've been visited by the minister saying, 'if you stay open on Sunday … you'll be out of business.'"
Tara King, another Norwich resident, said there is a "big divide" in the town between the church's members and others.
"They will go to businesses in Norwich and tell you to your face, 'we will not do business with you if you're open on Sunday,'" she said.
It’s a Jesus-based threat. The church’s members will informally boycott any business that’s open on Sundays to the point where business owners have to decide whether to close temporarily or permanently. It’s also possible those church members will demonize any businesses that ignore their threats (leaving bad reviews, spreading rumors about them, etc), leading non-church members to stay away from them as well.
The local government, too, has caved to the church in another way. Last month, the 5-member council voted 3-2 to ban Pride flags on municipal property. Supporters justified the move by claiming it would “maintain the unity” of the town… which was a bizarre way to say they wanted to placate Christian bigots at the expense of marginalized citizens.
The genesis of that decision is right on the church’s website, which makes clear any kind of sex outside of cisgender straight marriages is forbidden:
Any form of sexual immorality (including but not limited to homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, bestiality, incest, fornication, adultery and use of pornography) is sinful and offensive to God…
That’s not entirely shocking to see from a conservative Christian denomination, but it’s pathetic for a government to allow those beliefs to dictate public policy. Yet that’s what’s happening with Sunday commerce. It’s not enough for church members to stay at home; they want to force everyone else to do it, too, and businesses have to comply or else they won’t have many customers the other days of the week.
One church wants to blow up the local economy, at least one day a week, all because there are other people in the community who might not give a damn about their beliefs. Their arrogance inconveniences everyone else, and it may spur people to either move away or spend their money a few miles away when they’d rather keep it local.
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I guess the town could emulate them and shut off their water, gas and electrical service on Sundays. So the utilities wouldn't have to work on sunday.
The operant question right now is: how much of the town is willing to go toe-to-toe with this church, face them down and say, bluntly, NO. You do NOT get to tell us how to conduct our business, on Sunday or any other day of the week.
This is how you confront a bully: with strength and determination. I sincerely hope the people of Norwich have those qualities.