Canton -- A Facebook group has been started that claims the Canton Christian Fellowship Center is a cult, further deepening the divide between some members of the Canton community and the church that wants to open in a former downtown restaurant.
The Facebook page, “CFC Canton is a Cult,” links information, news articles and photographs related to the CFC’s ongoing legal battle to hold church services at 25 Court St. The historic three-story building formerly housed The Club restaurant/tavern. On Friday, the page had 95 followers.
“It’s a bit incendiary, but it catches people’s attention,” said the person who created the page. “The term cult does have a derogatory connotation.”
He agreed to discuss his viewpoints but requested his name not be used.
The page states “The CFC in Canton, NY is described by many as cult-like. Share your concerns here.”
The mission is identified as “to keep public track of what the CFC is trying to do.”
Describing himself as an atheist, the page creator said many CFC opponents feel the church has tried to bully the community and circumvent the local zoning code by filing a lawsuit that claims its civil rights have been violated.
He cites requiring members to give a certain amount of money to the church and ostracizing homosexual family members as examples of cult-like behavior that have been shown by the CFC.
“That’s the cult-like behavior I find,” he said.
In regard to religion, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines cult as “religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious.”
Jamie Sinclair, Canton CFC pastor, said the Facebook page seems “somewhat childish” and he doesn’t want to stoop to name-calling.
“Standing up for civil rights is never bullying,” he said.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Justice Department released a “statement of interest,” that sided with CFC. Federal attorneys argued that the village’s zoning code violates the equal protection clause of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
The pastor said he’s always open to questions and discussions about CFC. Mr. Sinclair said the church operates in a similar way to other not-for-profit groups.
“People are members of North Country Public Radio. I don’t think they’re a cult,” he said. “Like other churches, we are donor- and volunteer-supported.”
Several people have reacted to the Facebook page, with some writing comments.
A public protest had been scheduled in front of the Court Street building for April 14, but has been canceled, according to the Facebook page. Earlier in the week, 78 people had indicated they planned to attend.
“They (CFC) want to be martyrs and they want to be feel persecuted. I don’t think we should give them that opportunity,” the post announcing the canceled protest said.
Many voiced concern about the CFC’s position on homosexuality, calling the church homophobic. Besides Canton, the CFC has congregations in Madrid, Potsdam, Richville and Moira.
Others are upset that the church filed a lawsuit against the village, which has refused to allow a church to operate in the building because it’s in a Commercial-1 zone that doesn’t list churches as an allowed use.
At public meetings, several community members were upset about losing the three-story historic building that operated as a popular restaurant and tavern for many years.
Sections of the CFC website, including membership rules, are posted on the site.
“Membership is an antidote to our society,” the rules state. “We live in an age where very few people want to be committed to anything — a job, a marriage, our country.”
According to the CFC website, membership in the church is only open to those 18 and older who have been born again and evince a consistent Christian life as judged by the eldership. Members must also practice storehouse tithing and complete a membership process that includes submitting an application.
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