Society of Non-Theists at Purdue University

Update on Faith West


This post is referring to a bond issue in West Lafayette, IN that is fairly complicated. We have explained the issue in full in a previous blog post. Briefly, Faith Church is applying for a $7mil Economic Development Revenue Bond to build a new facility near Purdue’s campus. The $7 mil is a loan from Chase Bank, and not the City’s money, although they are tax exempt, and thereby deprive the federal government of tax revenue. The council is expected to vote on this project tomorrow evening, June 4.

Pastor Viars of Faith Church in Lafayette, IN likes to accuse us of discrimination against his church. The bond lawyer likes to think of awarding a $7 million tax-exempt bond as “a no brainer” and can’t find any reason to vote against it other than “bias against the church, against the Baptists.”

It’s especially worrying because, according to Viars, the president of the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue University said that “we need to crush [Faith Church] at all costs.” I can’t believe she would say such a—oh wait. She never said that.

There are, apparently, 6 reasons to oppose this. Our completely unfair discrimination is the first one, so here are the other 5 that the City Council should consider when casting their vote:

1. How it’s being handled

While in front of the media or City Council, Viars tells a very compelling story of a facility that will be open to everyone and will provide much needed non-religious services. His flock gets a different story, however. To them, it’s all about advancing their ministry and we, the very community who he claims to welcome, is the enemy. He spins tales of conspiracies between the local Episcopalians and the atheists, criticizing Councilman (and Reverend!) Bunder for having the welcoming church that Viars only claims Faith West will be.

Pastor Viars is using his congregation as a political tool, misquoting Anna and vilifying the opposition during his Sunday service, and packing the Council room past capacity, making the public hearing hostile and difficult. His answers to our concerns range between empty platitudes and jokes.

2. Saturated markets

Faith West boasts a new fitness center, daycare center, and biblical counseling (see a later point for more on the biblical counseling). The problem is that these facilities are going to be located in a saturated market, and thereby have limited economic effects.

For example, the fitness center will compete with at least two private centers and also a University fitness center, which faculty and students have free access to. If about half the city has essentially a free membership to a gym and the other half has access to existing facilities, It’s irrational to think that the fitness center (which has stricter rules, but similar pricing) will actually add anything to the city’s economy.

It’s the same story with the daycare center. There are 3 child care services run by the University with at least an additional 12 off campus. All for a city of 30,000 that is mostly childless students. And considering that it is such a fundamentalist religious institution, few members of the community who aren’t Baptists would be interested in sending their children there. We must ask, what benefit is the community drawing from this?

3. 18 jobs is not economic development

According to the bond application, 18 jobs are supposed to be created by this facility. According to Pastor Viars himself, most of these jobs are going to their own seminary students.

So they want a $7 million bond so that their own people get money that they’re going to give back to Faith through tuition and housing expenses. The current job openings they have all note that “This is a ministry position, and wages will reflect that fact,” which we can assume that means “divine intervention is needed to work for this cheep.”

Even if we assume most of their salaries will go into the local economy, we must consider that most of these seminary students live in Lafayette, not West Lafayette, which are two distinct municipalities.

It should also be mentioned that the discrimination policies of the city do not apply to these jobs. We’re all elated at the promise of 18 more jobs for god-fearing, hetronormative white men! (On their website they kindly promise not to discriminate based on ethnicity or race.)

4. Misuse of Bonds

It is the opinion of the City’s attorney that this is legal, however there still are a few points to be made here:

Pastor Viars is applying economic development bonds, when Faith Church could obtain the funding in the private sector. The difference between the private and public sector is roughly $56,000 or 2% interest rate. They claim no plan B, but this is a church that has $5.5 million on hand for a project that is projected to cost $12 million. A 2% difference in rate is not going to make or break it.

It will happen, with or without the bond. The entire point of the bonds is to promote economic development that otherwise wouldn’t happen in the City.

This facility is going to have negligible economic benefits to the city, and the justifications are not very convincing. The City will be cutting from its property tax base. The fed government won’t get tax revenue from the loan. They’re risking a lawsuit. All this for 18 jobs that hardly pay anything and will go to people outside the city.

5. City endorsement of a violation of their own policies

The bond policy of the city necessitates that the project support the general welfare of residents. By passing this ordinance, they are saying that this church is good for the community.

Two years ago, the city of West Lafayette showed their support for GLBT rights in the hiring process by passing a new Human Relations ordinance. In this ordinance, gender identity and sexual expression were added to the city’s non-discrimination policies, which is unusual for Indiana and clearly cemented the City’s position on human rights.

This is important, because the church endorses, as well as offers, homosexual reparative therapy. This therapy has been heavily discredited by the American Psychological Association and the state Senate of California recently moved to ban it.

In an older blog post, Pastor Viars claimed that Rep. Michelle Bachmann is “theologically bankrupt” for suggesting that homosexual reparative therapy is a choice. We would hope that Pastor Viars has changed his view on this matter, but we’re skeptical.

While the City may not have a legal right to prevent such “therapy,” they do not need to endorse it. Faith Ministries is not entitled to this bond, the city does not have to support it. After such a decisive move for human rights, it would be tragic for them to endorse the very discrimination they wanted to prevent.

Even if this bond measure passes, we hope that our opposition has set a precedent for having better scrutiny and skepticism towards what the city is actually endorsing.