Sunday, June 22, 2014

Tolerance Vs. Acceptance: "That Man's God Isn't My God!"

So this story came out recently about a High Priest in Beebe, Arkansas, who was trying establish a temple and shop in his community. Everything seemed to be going along swimmingly for HP Bertram Dahl until the town found out he wanted to open a place for Pagans, and then he was given an abrupt "cease and desist" order by the town. He hadn't even opened yet.

You can see the story and local television coverage of it here.

I can see the town's point of view on some things here, but frankly, the town's on dangerous ground on this one, in my humble opinion. Sure, you can say that the area that Dahl wants to open the temple is zoned "medium residential" and as such he can't open a "shop" there.

Anyway, according to the local zoning laws, he could be granted an exception for the temple, as it is a church, but no one will give him the paperwork to file. If he did file it, he was told it would be denied. You'll see in the video that the town lawyer gets on and says something ridiculous like "If it's not in the code you can't do it." Sounds like someone needs another class on dealing with the media; he didn't make a great impression during the interview, though admittedly, we didn't see the entirety of it.

Honestly, however, any town employee who is an any way involved in this situation is in a bad spot, because of remarks by Beebe's mayor, Mike Robertson, and Dahl's alderman, to whom Dahl had turned for assistance.

Mayor Mike Robertson told Dahl he "would not be opening a Pagan anything" in the town. Robertson is a "staunch defender of Christianity", according the Huffington Post, and in a 2010 Beebe city newsletter, he wrote, in part:

It is my opinion and the Beebe City Council's that government leaders must pray to God as the true leader of the nation and that a nation cannot exist if they are not one nation under God trusting in God as the leader. It is my opinion government has allowed non-believers far too many liberties taking God out of our daily lives. As mayor of this city I will continue to open our meeting with a prayer and a pledge to our country – one nation under God.

Please remember in the coming November election for leaders of this nation to elect only those who will stand firm doing the will of God and not their will. If placing God or the simple mentioning of his holy name in this newsletter is offensive to some; so be it. I do not and will not apologize, ever, for giving him the praise he is due for all that he has done for our blessed country. Not now, not ever in the future, should we turn our backs to our creator.

And yes, seriously, this is an excerpt from a public document. 

Mayor Robertson is entitled to his opinions, no matter how closed-minded I believe they are. But as far as I'm concerned, he crossed over the line into bigotry with these remarks. In addition, these are his personal views that are in a public document produced by him in his role as the Mayor. To exhort people to vote in only Christians in an election, too, is way beyond the pale. 

I mean, come on now. "Non-believers"? Um, dude, you just bashed every single citizen of your town who isn't Christian, and essentially you called them "infidels". I hope there aren't many non-Christians who live there, and if you are, I'd stay hidden and then try to get the fuck out of town ASAP.

Bottom line: If you want to be discriminatory as a private citizen, that's your right, but when you do it as a public official, that's totally unacceptable. 

I'd tell the citizens of the town to vote him out, but that letter came out in 2010 and the Mayor is still in his job, so I'm guessing there was little or no public outcry. Likely it's just business as usual for Beebe.

Then there is the alderman, who is unnamed and would probably like to stay that way at this point. He went so far as to say "That man's God isn't my God." Are you kidding? Do you really think that God--you know, the merciful, accepting, forgiving God that I used to know as a Christian--would want you to have this attitude, alderman? Who cares if he doesn't worship the same God as you do? In a very real sense, since we're all going for the same thing, the God the Pagans worship is likely the same anyway. But his intolerance is likely preventing him from seeing it that way. 

Once again, as a representative of the people, you're being paid to speak for them, not to judge them and send them packing because YOU don't like their beliefs. If you are not prepared to faithfully execute the duties of your office for every single person in your jurisdiction, well...then it's time to resign. 

The actions and attitudes of these town officials shame every single amazing Christian person in Beebe. This is exactly the kind of intolerance that just breeds MORE intolerance as the other side--Pagans, in this case--feels like they have been unjustly slighted. Do you think the Pagans in the town are going to take the high road? I can only hope they will. Fight the good fight, but don't stoop to that level, or you have just become what you condemned. You know...hypocrisy. 

I think HP Dahl and his group is largely in the right on this one, but I'm skeptical that they will see justice. 

Truly, I do feel badly for how the Pagans were treated, but you know what? I feel even worse for Christians, because they have these two men in the public eye who are making all Christians out to be intolerant bigots.

What is my final word to these two city officials? "Namaste." I accept them for the place they are in spiritually, and hope that one day people of all faiths will have equal representation and total acceptance in Beebe. While I may not practice your beliefs or agree with them, I accept them.

Thanks as always for stopping by. Blessings and Namaste to all of you. 

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