Topless Protesters in Ohio Target Anti-Topless Church

WARSAW, Ohio—After referring to the "Great Commission" given to New Beginnings Ministries, the church's mission statement reads, "Notice that Jesus did not say 'stay in your comfortable pews, inside the four walls of the church and let people come to you to be saved'—but that we are to 'GO'!! We therefore accept the mission that God has set before us to raise up a generation of Christians who are not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and who are equipped to earnestly contend for the faith that has been handed down to us by our fathers."

It's heady material like that which led members of the New Beginnings congregation to have spent part of their Sundays for more than five years picketing the Foxhole North strip club, which is about nine miles up the road from the church in New Castle—but now, the tables have been turned.

Yesterday, six women who work at Foxhole North took part in a short topless protest march that went from the corner of Railroad and Church streets to the edge of the New Beginnings parking lot, where they set up lawn chairs and waited for the "flock" to enter for Sunday services. It wasn't the first time the women had protested, but this time, they were joined by about 30 more citizens, most of whom sat across the street from the church entrance or marched in front of it, holding protest signs. Two of the club workers remained topless for the length of the protest—and surprise, surprise: Being topless isn't a crime in Ohio.

"We want to let [church members] know how it feels to be under scrutiny," said Thomas George, Foxhole North's owner. "They come up every weekend. They're very abusive and certainly not Christian-like, not what I read in my Bible. I have to point out the hypocrisy I see and not stand by and let this go on week in and week out."

But as it turns out, many churchgoers didn't even have to see the protesters. After a message posted on the church's website, which read in part, "As many of you know, our Ministry's presence at the Foxhole strip club has prompted them to retaliate with a protest at our church. We have recently learned that they intend to make a large showing, possibly including persons from other Ohio clubs, this Sunday, August 10, 2014—at which time they have threatened to be 'performing' as they would inside their club. This may or may not include nudity and/or actions deemed inappropriate for public viewing," church officials escorted parishioners into the church through a rear entrance that was "shielded" on all sides by large tarps.

George said that at least twice he'd filed injunctions to have the church protesters stay at least 100 feet away from his club, but both requests were denied—so George decided to take matters into his own hands.

"I don't have a problem with people expressing their First Amendment rights, but at what point does it become harassment?" asked George, in what the Associated Press characterized as an apology to the public and other churches for Sunday's protest. "But they backed us in a corner, and we have no recourse at law."

Anny Donewald—founder of Eve's Angels, a Grand Rapids, Mich., ministry that focuses on strippers—was on hand for the protest, and she told the Coshocton Tribune that she'd sat down with Pastor Bill Dunfee the last time she was in town to attempt to get him to realize that his protests "were not the proper way to reach the dancers and patrons" of the club.

"The Bible says, if you're with someone and they don't receive your message, brush your feet off and keep it moving," Donewald told the Tribune. "[The church] definitely needs to go away, because they're causing so much of a problem and there's no humility in that."

Also on hand was Greg Flaig, executive director of the Owners Coalition, an association of 70 Ohio adult nightclub owners, who was monitoring the situation for his organization—and who might possibly be a witness in the lawsuit George is considering filing, charging the local cops with selective enforcement for treating the stripper protesters differently than they do the church congregation protesters.

"George said the Foxhole crowd will gather outside New Beginnings Ministries 'for the foreseeable future,'" reported Kelly Faircloth for, "while Pastor Bill Dunfee told the Tribune they'll keep protesting the club until it goes out of business."