Falling into Grace

Shame The idiom, “fall from grace” is typically used to express the idea of a loss of status, respect, or prestige for a failure of moral character. Just in the past week, we’ve borne witness to the moral failure of Eliot Spitzer, governor of New York because of his involvement with a prostitute. People have and do fail, some failures being more public and shameful than others. In recent years very public ministers, such as Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and Ted Haggard have had their sins broadcast around the globe, not only bringing shame on themselves, but shame to the Church. High-profile politicians such as Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Randy Cunningham, and Bill Clinton have had very public failures splashed over every newspaper in the land. Exposing and scrutinizing the sins of the rich, famous and powerful seems to garner as much interest as other national past-times such as baseball and American Idol. It’s a bloodsport.

This morning, Easter morning, the guest speaker at our church was John G. Rowland, former governor of the state John G. Rowland Connecticut, the state in which I live. On July 1, 2004 Rowland resigned as governor after facing charges of tax evasion, corruption, and bribery. More than likely, Rowland would have been impeached if he had chosen to fight the charges. In the end, he would spend ten months in federal prison for “honest services mail fraud” and tax fraud.

For most of those in the crowd attending the service today, they only knew John Rowland because of his history in state government and his legal troubles. For me it was personal. Seeing him at church today brought back waves of past memories relative to the eminent domain case that consumed almost seven years of my life. John Rowland was a central figure in our contention that government should not seize personal property to give to another person, institution, or business, but for strictly defined public uses such as for roads, schools, and the like. (see the tab above, “NABOTH’S VINEYARD” for information on the case)

On February 3, 1998, the day Amy and I had our offer to buy our home accepted, Governor John Rowland, George Milne of Pfizer Corporation, and City of New London officials were on-board a ferry in the Thames River announcing that Pfizer was going to build it’s Global Research facility in New London, a few blocks from our house. This was great news. New London needed an economic asset of this magnitude to jump-start the city’s sagging fortunes and move it toward a better quality of life. Amy and I were thrilled. For the next nine months the New London Development Corporation, the city’s quasi-public/private agency, began a course of informational meetings about the development of the area adjacent to the new Pfizer development. For most residents, including myself, the idea of redeveloping the Fort Trumbull peninsula was welcomed news. However, before too long, we began to detect some stories of underhanded attempts by the NLDC to get theresidents of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood to sell their homes to the NLDC. For many residents, the neighborhood had been their home for most of their lives, and many of the residents, being quite advanced in years, just didn’t want to sell. That’s when the pressure began.

By the end of the year, 1998, Amy and I wrote up a petition that stated our support of the residents to stay in their homes and that the proposed development should incorporate the neighborhood. The petition was part of the administrative requirement for an environmental impact study. After a short time had passed, we began to hear more and more distressing stories of harassment and intimidation. Part of that intimidation was a threat of eminent domain. Legally, according to the Connecticut General Statutes, using the threat of eminent domain is illegal until a government plan had been certified. That wouldn’t happen until February 2000.

During 1999 we continued to hear stories of how the NLDC was strong-arming the residents in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood by employing some fairly deceitful practices. In more than one case we found where the home evaluations the NLDC was giving the residents showed a considerable drop in value. All the while, the city continued to tax them at a much higher rate. Clearly unjust weights. What was really sad was to see elderly residents being treated so poorly. They were being given low offers for their homes which carried no mortgages. These folks had worked all their lives to raise families and buy their homes, which they now owned, free and clear. Sadly, the offers they were given by NLDC wouldn’t buy a garage, much less a home. In addition most of these people were retired having small retirement pensions. They couldn’t afford or even qualify for a new mortgage that would give them the same house as they now owned. In spite of our rantings to the city, state, and NLDC about the injustice of what had been and continued to be done, it fell on deaf ears. Instead, the residents were being told they needed to sacrifice for the common good. It was ironic that Claire Guadiani, president of both the NLDC and Connecticut College was saying that the remaining residents needed to sacrifice for the common good, yet at the same time, we discovered that the original plan that had been developed included an educational campus led by Claire’s husband David Burnett, a Pfizer executive. No conflict there.

At the end of 1999, members of the Coalition to Save Fort Trumbull Neighborhood, an organization formed to save the neighborhood were fairly certain the path the state was taking in the project was one that would force the remaining residents out of Fort Trumbull. Their gentrified neighborhood just didn’t fit with the world class Pfizer development. On January 18, 2000 the New London City Council voted 6-1 to approve the municipal development plan submitted by the state, through their agent, the NLDC. In that act, the council gave its power to use eminent domain to force out unwilling residents from their homes. The plan was hatched and approved at the highest level of state government in the person of John G. Rowland.

For most of the next year my wife and I obtained thousands of pages of emails, letters, and other documents through the Freedom Of Information Act. After a while, we could have written them in our sleep. At any rate, as we continued to dig up violations of statutes and other laws, we sought legal help. We retained the service of a local attorney, (our personal attorney) Scott Sawyer. By May 2000 we formed an organization, the Fort Trumbull Conservancy in order to launch legal actions against the city, state, and NLDC. In July 2000 we filed our first lawsuit. While we proceed to fight on state-level statutory levels, we also lobbied the support of the Institute for Justice– IJ, a Washington-based public interest law firm. They took up our cause in December 2000.

For the next four plus years, we continued to fight to preserve the property rights of the residents and hope for a modification of the plan in order to get the development going in uncontested areas of the project site. The results were disheartening on all sides. Through that period we went to superior court, the state supreme court, and finally, on February 22, 2005, the case was heard in the highest court in the land, the US Supreme Court.

From early on in the struggle, Amy and I participated in weekly prayer walks in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood. It was led by myself and John Endler, pastor of First Baptist Church in New London. We had asked people and churched to join us in an effort to pray for reconciliation and peace in the city. A number of people were faithful to the call for over five years running. Sadly, only two churches participated. During those days I noticed there were three kinds of prayers being offered. The first was a general prayer for the residents and the resolution of the immediate problems. The second was a prayer that was more sharp-edged, with a call for justice against those who had violated the residents in the neighborhood. The last kind of prayer was one of reconciliation to our enemies in this particular fight and one that sought truth and mercy. I was one that prayed for reconciliation. That included prayers for John Rowland, Claire Guadiani, and our city officials.

I found that the more I prayed for my “enemies”, the more I felt God releasing love for them in my heart. Even though I would still continue to confront them over what I saw a injustice, I didn’t allow myself the opportunity to hate them. I had to pray for them, I had to love them. )

In 2004, I was not at all surprised to hear about Rowland being charged with tax evasion and other charges. For me and my wife, we KNEW since 2000, it was going to happen. We knew he would be kicked out of office. (Read NABOTH’S VINEYARD. In it I said in February 2000 that John Rowland would not make it through his term as governor.) After hearing the news, my heart was heavy and I began to pray for him and his family. I felt very strongly that God had His hand on John Rowland and was doing something special in his life. That special thing was fine-tuned after Rowland was sent to federal prison for ten months. I thought of him and prayed for him often, believing that God had him right where he wanted him.

When I heard that John Rowland was released from prison and that God had indeed done something in his life, I remembered the verse of scripture my mother would always encourage me by, Romans 8:28. Ironically, it was this same verse that got John Rowland through some really rough patches while in prison. That verse says, “We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are chosen to be a part of His plan.”

It is so wonderful to see that God has used what man would consider a nail in the coffin of a life to resurrect a new man, that like David, after he was caught in the sin with Bathsheba, was empowered to preach God’s word. (Psalm 51) Wow!

Today, I heard my enemy speaking of God’s glory and the power of Christ’s resurrection. What a joy to see him redeemed. Actually he fell into grace instead of falling from it. He may have lost status, respect, and prestige in the world’s eyes, but in God’s eyes, John Rowland has status, respect, and prestige as a child of God. Grace is unmerited favor, that which is bestowed, not earned. The Scripture says that where sin abounds, grace does much more abound. (Romans 5:20) Indeed, John Rowland has fallen into God’s grace. I know, because I’m there with him.

Peace,

Steve

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One Response

  1. Hi, very awesome post. You have done a great job on the website. Interested to see more.

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