Mahncke Park residents concerned about church's plan to operate from public school in the neighborhood

In an hour-long YouTube video, the church's pastor says he chose to locate it in the north-of-downtown neighborhood because of its progressive views, which he argues run counter to Jesus' teachings.

click to enlarge Lamar Elementary School: In an online video, Pastor Carl Young said he plans to make the public school financially dependent on his church. - Google Maps
Google Maps
Lamar Elementary School: In an online video, Pastor Carl Young said he plans to make the public school financially dependent on his church.

Mahncke Park residents are reacting with anger and concern to a pastor's deal to rent space at a public school so he can use it to house a church proselytizing to the neighborhood.

Much of the concern stems from an hour-long YouTube interview in which Pastor Carl Young says he's "planting" his church in Mahncke Park because of its progressive views, which he argues run counter to Jesus' teachings. Further, the pastor says his agreement with Lamar Elementary School will place financial pressure on the campus to continue hosting his church.

"Where we're wanting to plant there [in Mahncke Park], there is more of a hostility towards the gospel," Young says in the clip, which was uploaded in February. "Do I want to bring my kids to that, and see some of that? I think God's calling us to do that."

During his interview with Christian YouTube channel The Time & Place, Young elaborates that he was drawn to open his Garden City Church after seeing yard signs in the largely gentrified, north-of-downtown neighborhood displaying the pro-LGBTQ+ "rainbow colors with each of the five secular creed [sic]."

"They have a sign in their yard. I know exactly what they believe," the pastor says in the video. "And so I know what idols they have."

Young also explains in the clip that he chose Lamar because 80% of San Antonio Independent School District students are low-income, ratcheting up pressure for the campus to continue extending a welcome to his church.

"Part of our strategy is to — we think God is calling us to be a generous church, financially," he says. "And so, how do we bless the school and the teachers, and the students and the admin — and everything there — to where, in two years, they couldn't imagine us not being there anymore? And so, we want to be able to share the gospel with all of them but we want them to think, 'Man, if they leave, this is gonna go downhill really quickly.'"

Mahncke Park residents began voicing concerns online Sunday after Young revealed plans for the church in the neighborhood's Facebook group. The pastor posted an announcement that he would hold a meeting with residents at neighborhood tavern The Pigpen to discuss Garden City Church's arrival at Lamar.

"As a Lamar parent, I am concerned that we were not notified about this agreement until it was already done," one resident posted in response. "I also want to know what steps will be taken to prevent ... religious literature [from] being left out for students to read."

"This is very disturbing," another added. "Public (public!) schools should not be hosts to religious gatherings."

"Is it appropriate that our local public school supports one religion over any other?" posted a third resident. "Glad my child no longer attends (or maybe the school is glad he doesn't)."

The Current opted not to identify the commenters by name since the Facebook page is a membership-only group.

As of press time, SAISD has declined to answer the Current's questions about specifics of the school's agreement with Garden City Church and what kind of research officials conducted into Young and his organization.

A district spokeswoman responded to inquiries with a one-sentence statement: “We are investigating this matter to determine our next steps."

'Not in the business of promoting specific ideologies'

The district's terse response follows a statement from Lamar Elementary officials posted Tuesday to the Mahncke Park Facebook page.

That message, which was subsequently removed, included assurances that the school's rental rules prohibit the church from giving flyers to students or speaking to them about services. The church is also barred from using the facilities on days where school is in session, according to the notice.

"Our school is not in the business of promoting specific ideologies or religious views," Lamar officials said in the unsigned statement. "We also recognize our campus serves as a community hub, and community partners can request to rent campus space from SAISD."

While SAISD has been publicly quiet about its feelings on Garden City Church, a member of District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez's staff said she's aware of opposition behind the scenes.

An SAISD board member contacted the councilman's office to voice concerns and noted that Superintendent Jaime Aquino is aware of residents' worries, said Denise Hernández, McKee-Rodriguez's deputy director of policy.

McKee-Rodriguez, whose district includes Mahncke Park, told the Current he plans to write a letter opposing the church's presence on the Lamar campus.

"You can probably expect something about midday [Thursday]," he added.

SAISD facilities rules 

In Facebook posts, Mahncke Park residents argued that Garden City Church — especially in light of Young's video clip — is violating SAISD rules on use of school facilities. Those guidelines state that the district can reject applications "if any group requesting usage misrepresents itself or their activity."

Despite Lamar's assurance to residents that the church won't meet on school days or interact with students, Young's video interview suggests he may not be willing to hold to those limits. In the clip, the pastor says he wants to interact with faculty and students.

"We really want to serve the faculty and students of Lamar however we can outside of Sundays," he says.

What's more, SAISD's school facilities agreement states that the district can scrap applications from a group that "discriminates against any person on the basis of disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation."

Young's specific mention of targeting Mahncke Park because of its rainbow yard signs raises questions about the church's views on LGBTQ+ equality.

Further, the pastor has said the church is aligned with the doctrine of a religious network of more than 800 churches called Acts 29. The organization holds that God has "given to the man primary responsibility to lead his wife and family," according to its website.

While Acts 29 describes itself as a "diverse, global community," it prohibits women from becoming pastors or church elders. All six members of its board of directors are men.

In the acclaimed 2020 book Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, religious scholar Kristin Kobes du Mez argues that Acts 29 and other so-called "New Calvinist" groups propagate a "masculine theology" that's "remarkably unconcerned about the concentration of unchecked power in the hands of men."

In a written statement supplied to TV station KSAT, Young appeared determined to stick with his deal with Lamar, even in the face of blowback.

"For as long as we can, we intend to uphold our part of the agreement with SAISD/Lamar Elementary, even if they are unable to fulfill their part," he said.

Acts 29 controversy

Acts 29's views on gender roles aren't the only aspect of the organization that has drawn scrutiny.

The nonprofit group's chief goal is to "plant" a network of churches that uphold its New Calvinist theology, even going so far as to reveal plans to provide up to $50,000 in startup money for each new church founded under its sponsorship.

In his YouTube interview, Young says the money he plans to give Lamar would be enough to provide a teacher's salary. Compensation for new teachers at SAISD starts at $54,200 annually, according to the district's 2021-2022 manual.

Over the years, Acts 29's leaders have been lightning rods for controversy.

The group's co-founder and one-time head, Mark Driscoll, experienced a 2014 fall from grace over complaints from employees and congregants of his Mars Hill Church alleging he engaged in abusive behavior. The 2021 podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill chronicled Driscoll's eventual resignation from his church over the complaints.

Even before that scandal, Driscoll faced accusations of creating a hostile environment for women via his teachings.

After evangelist Ted Haggard was caught in a sex scandal involving a male escort, Driscoll drew fire for a blog suggesting the preacher's wife deserved at least some of the blame. "A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband ... is not responsible for her husband's sin, but she may not be helping him either," Driscoll wrote.

Driscoll also faced a public skewering over an online screed written under a pseudonym in which he called the United States a "pussified nation" dragged down by feminism, homosexual behavior and "emasculated" men.

Concerns about the leadership ranks at Acts 29 haven't died down since Driscoll's departure.

In 2020, the organization's board removed CEO Steve Timmis after receiving accusations about his “abusive leadership." An investigation by Christianity Today found 15 people willing to air allegations of abuse and intimidation against the English pastor.

And, just this week, Acts 29 revealed that it asked current Board President Matt Chandler to step aside from speaking engagements after The Village Church (TVC), the North Texas congregation he leads, looked into allegations he sent inappropriate social media messages to a woman in his flock.

TVC officials "concluded that though Matt was not involved in a romantic relationship with this woman, in this messaging he failed to live up to the standard of conduct expected of a church elder," Acts 29 said in a statement posted Sunday.

"The Acts 29 Board has decided to follow the lead of TVC and ask Matt to step away from his Acts 29 speaking engagements during this time," the statement continued. "Executive Director Brian Howard, who has provided day-to-day leadership for Acts 29 since May 2020, will continue to lead Acts 29 in our commitment to plant disciple-making churches worldwide."

Even so, Acts 29's website still shows Chandler listed as its board president.

Editor's Note: This story was edited to reflect to remove a public meeting at Lamar Elementary School that's being rescheduled.

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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