[Updated: 24 Jun 2016 — see postcript.]
Know how people say that no one has ever changed their mind because of an internet post?
Well prepare to be amazed, because I have an example of someone who did: me.
Often — and I’m guilty of this myself — when we encounter a posting that runs counter to our opinion it only reinforces our currently held belief. This cognitive bias has been studied repeatedly; we tend to dismiss items that refute our position and, even when faced with factual evidence that we are wrong, we tend to hold onto our opinions with even greater fervor.
In some cases, we’ll even hold two completely contradictory positions, which can lead to discomfort — cognitive dissonance — as we try to maintain our illogical stance.
This happened to me last night.
Last week, in the wake of the Orlando massacre, Pastor Roger Jimenez of Verity Baptist Church in Sacramento, Ca., walked to the pulpit and praised the killings, characterized the dead as predatory pedophiles, and said that the only tragedy was that the deaths stopped at a count of forty-nine. He posted a video of his sermon on YouTube (it has since been removed as hate-speech), and the backlash was harsh and immediate.
Yesterday, a Facebook meme from God (@TheGoodLordAbove) hit my feed. God linked to a follow-up article: the landlord who rents space to Verity Baptist Church has asked the church to vacate their tenancy, effective immediately. God include a single word of comment: SMITE!
Chuckle chuckle, I said. Hehehe. Good on ya, God.
At which point I began to choke on a super-sized portion of my own hypocrisy.
Cognitive dissonance came with an immediate headache — I’m talking physical pain, here — and the inability to hold two ideas in my head at the same time. You see, I’ve long been a proponent of equality for members of the LGBT community, and as such, I hold strong opinions about all these so-called “religious freedom” initiatives that have been weaseling their way through state legislatures across the country. Whether it’s a Colorado baker who refuses to bake a cake for a gay wedding or a county clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, my position has been stalwart and unshaken: one person’s religious freedom cannot infringe upon another’s rights in a secular society. If you open your shop to the public, you must accept all members of the public, not just whites, not just straight folks, not just the ones you like.
So, when I found myself fist-pumping for the landlord who refused to rent his buildings to someone they didn’t like, I had a quandary. The landlord here was doing the same thing to this (admittedly repugnant) pastor that the Colorado baker had done to the two guys who just wanted to get married.
And if one was wrong, so was the other.
It took me about ten minutes to actually get both ideas in my head at the same time, and it took me another ten (or more) to puzzle out what the issue (summarized above) really was. Then I went through a period where I dissected both situations, and tried to maneuver my way to some sort of exceptional reasoning that would allow me to maintain both opinions at the same time.
In the end, I realized I had to change my mind.
And so it is that I have to say that I stand with the pastor, the radical Christian extremist, and condemn the landlord. As reprehensible as the pastor’s opinions are, as totally un-Christian as I believe his sentiments to be, he cannot be kicked out of his offices because of his beliefs. The landlord has no more right to unilaterally break the lease and kick the pastor out because of what he says and thinks than a Colorado baker can refuse to bake a cake for a couple because they’re of the same sex. As long as the pastor and his congregation aren’t harming the facility or engaging in illegal behavior, they cannot be removed.
I don’t like it, but Pastor Roger Jimenez of Verity Baptist Church has every right to be a total ass, a blithering bigot who spouts hate in the name of love, and an example of everything that is wrong with religion. It’s his right, as long as he doesn’t incite immediate violence or break laws, just as it’s my right to denounce his vile words and cruel ideology here. Dammit.
PS. New details regarding the landlord’s handling of Verity Baptist Church’s tenancy allow me to change my mind again, this time in favor of the landlord. The landlord is not breaking the lease, has informed the tenant the the lease will not be renewed, and will allow the tenant to break the lease without penalty, should the church wish to do so. However, the post above is still an accurate description of my mental machinations at the time when I thought the landlord was breaking the lease.