Churches and Other Public Nuisances

Church bells. Narikala, TbilisiI have seen quite a few stories over the years involving people filing noise complaints against one of their local Christian churches. Most of the complaints involve unreasonably loud church bells on Sunday mornings. I can easily empathize with the people who file these complaints.

The church I was forced to attend in my childhood used loud bells to summon the neighborhood every Sunday morning. My family lived just far enough away that I could clearly hear the bells from inside the house with the windows closed. They were just loud enough that I believe they would have woken me if I had ever been permitted to sleep at the time they were sounding. Had we lived a few streets closer to the church, I imagine they would have been a real nuisance. From what I remember, they sounded for at least 10-15 minutes. Promoting their services was clearly deemed more important than allowing neighborhood residents to have some peace and quiet.

The church described in this story (update: link no longer active) is within 30 miles from where I live now. Bells waking up the neighborhood aren't the problem with this particular church. They have a "praise band" that plays every week, sometimes late into the night. Can you imagine trying to sleep when your bedroom was only 50 feet from this church? Again, their worship and/or celebration is given more importance than the sleep of the hardworking residents nearby.

That a Christian church here in Mississippi would be loud and inconsiderate of their neighbors is not surprising. What is surprising is that someone actually dared to complain about it. Come on buddy, do you really expect us to believe that your sleep is more important than hundreds of people gathering each week to loudly proclaim their devotion to something that probably doesn't exist? Obviously, you aren't a good Christian! If you were, you'd be there with them and not trying to sleep. How dare you persecute these poor Christians by expecting them to respect others!

Needless to say, these are the sorts of reactions I'd expect from the Christians who would do this. But in all fairness, I suppose it is possible that those who do this never bother to stop and consider how their behavior affects other people. And I cannot pretend that this problem is unique to Christians practicing their religion. I often marvel at how my entire neighborhood will set off fireworks until at least 2:00 AM every 4th of July and New Year's Eve. It does not matter how many parents with infants or veterans with PTSD there are living here. It often seems like nobody can be bothered to think about anyone else.

Because of that, I am happy to see people like the couple mentioned in the story about the church and their "praise band" complain. If there is any chance that the inconsiderate people are oblivious as to how their behavior impacts others, a complaint can be effective. It will not necessarily lead to change; however, it will take away the "I had no idea this was bothering anybody" excuse. And if the behavior continues after the complaint, then we know we are dealing with something much worse than mere obliviousness.

There is a take-home message here. Have your peace and quiet disrupted by a rude neighbor (or a rude neighborhood church)? Let them know how you are being affected and request the sort of change that would resolve the problem. See a church-state violation? Complain. Feel that you have been "victimized" because of how a man is sitting on the subway? Let him know that you would like to sit down. There are many public nuisances out there, and bringing the problem to the attention of those responsible is often valuable. It isn't going to solve all problems, but it is a good place to start.

This post was originally published in June of 2005 and has been thoroughly expanded and updated.