Mountain Christian Church has four locations in Harford County. Church leaders estimate that on any given Sunday, about 6,000 people attend services, half of them at the main location in Joppa.
This past Sunday, a nine-piece band mixed music, scripture and message, then Executive Pastor Luke Erickson preached about King David, zeroing in on one of his best known sayings.
“If Twitter existed back then, you can be sure that his publicist would have been pushing this out in the Twitter sphere when David said in Second Samuel 24, ‘I will not offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing,’” Erickson said.
What is being pushed on Twitter as well as Facebook is opposition to a proposed wastewater treatment plant for Mountain Christian’s Joppa church. It would replace an old septic system that is violating state regulations.
Mountain Christian leaders say they want to avoid confrontation with neighbors. Meanwhile, opponents have taken to social media over concerns that the discharge would pollute the Gunpowder River.
The Maryland Department of the Environment held two contentious public hearings on the proposal.
At the hearing in Perry Hall, Republican state Sen. J.B. Jennings, who represents portions of both Harford and Baltimore counties, told the crowd he lives less than a mile from the church.
“This is home for us,” Jennings said. “This affects us too personally. We’re trying to figure out how to fix this problem.”
In an interview, Erickson said the church wants to fix it, too.
“When those Facebook wildfires start up, I don’t know what you can really do to them other than just trying to say, ‘Well, here’s the truth, and if you want to see it, then here it is,’” Erickson said.
And the truth, according to Erickson, is that the state, not the church, decided the wastewater treatment plant was the best solution. At the hearings, state officials made the case that the treated discharge into a tributary of the Gunpowder would be safe for both humans and wildlife.
Robert Kershner, an engineer hired by the church, said unlike other systems, this one would not create a torrent of discharge.
“If you generate 2,400 gallons, and you might generate it in a half an hour right after church, that 2,400 gallons doesn’t go out the end of that pipe that minute,” Kershner said.
He said it is more likely to take 24 hours.
But many remain unconvinced.
Theo Le Gardeur is the Gunpowder River Keeper. He leads a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization that works to protect the watershed. He said he opposes any discharge into the river.
So does John Franz, who said he and his wife have lived by the Gunpowder in Baltimore County for more than 40 years.
“If this system creates a problem for our wells, we have no recourse — none,” Franz said.
During these hearings, the church has remained largely silent. Erickson said the church wants to avoid taking a side.
“There's a camp of people that say, ‘We’re really concerned about the environment and the potential impact from this system,’ he said. “It’s important for people to know we’re in that camp, too.”
On the other hand, Facebook comments call the church’s actions “criminal” and say the church should be shut down.
Erickson said the church is trying to stay focused on its mission, which includes loving all people like Jesus would.
“Facebook trolls are people, too,” Erickson said.
The public comment period for the proposed permit ends August 2. MDE said there is no timeline for making a final decision.