Opinion: I Blocked the Local Pastor for an Offensive Comment on Social Media

Walter Rhein

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I’ve known the local pastor for more than twenty years. We went to college together and occasionally saw each other out on the local cross-country ski trail.

I admit I was a little surprised when I learned he selected religion as a career. Some of his comments in private moments were highly inappropriate for a pastor. Also, I once lent him a pair of boots which I never got back.

I often feel a creepy vibe from religious people. I don’t like the way they look at me with judgment. Too many religious people have an attitude like they think they’re better than you. They should use that energy to help vulnerable populations in their community instead.

Throughout the years, I’ve seen this pastor in town. I’m an outspoken agnostic, and one day he invited me out for a beer to “discuss something.”

I went along because, hey, free beer.

“We’re going to have a roundtable meeting at the church and I wanted to invite you.”

“What’s it about?”

“Well, everyone in the religious sector knows that people are leaving religion. We know this because, on surveys where people are asked to put their religious affiliation, they’re increasingly putting ‘none.’ Our roundtable meeting is to find out why people are leaving the church.”

I almost laughed. I sat and thought about it for a while. I was tempted to give him a lot of reasons as to why people were leaving the church. Maybe people were fed up with all the child abuse scandals for one thing. It seems like you can’t turn on the news without hearing another story about some pastor who was allowed to have his way with vulnerable kids for decades.

Or maybe people are leaving the church because they’re tired of its influence on society? Perhaps they’re sick of having their favorite book banned? Maybe they’re appalled by all the hate speech against the LGBTQ community.

I think the local pastor could tell what was going through my head because he gave me a pained look. “You’re free to come and say anything, even things that might be painful to hear.”

“If you already know what the problem is,” I replied, “what do you need me for.”

He went silent and drank his beer.

I thought about the proposal for a moment and eventually turned him down.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because I own a business,” I said. “I’m concerned that if I come to your church and speak honestly about my contempt for your religion, the fanatics in your church will launch an online hate campaign.”

He looked stung when I said this. “I hadn’t considered that might be a deterrent.”

“Then you haven’t been paying attention. I’m sick of getting harassed and attacked by religious people.”

We parted, but we maintained contact until recently.

I’ve since sold my business, so I’ve been free to be more vocal about my criticisms of American society. This is my First Amendment right, however, I often am subjected to insulting remarks from members of the religious community.

My family is an immigrant family, and in the last few years, my wife and children have had to endure more and more harassment in public because of the color of their skin. It doesn’t matter if you are here legally or not, people who hold racist beliefs in their hearts don’t care about the facts.

I’ve written lots of articles about this harassment. I’ve pleaded with local religious groups to address the hatred against immigrants at their services. All I’ve ever received is silence.

The only time I’ve ever received a response from my local pastor was when I posted that people who sell guns to mass shooters should share some accountability. The pastor took that opportunity to leave a comment comparing gun violence to drunk driving.

That was the post he chose to comment on.

He ignored my pleading with the local religious community to stand up to local violence and harassment against immigrants for years. He only spoke when I suggested people who sold guns needed to do so responsibly.

I blocked him.

The other day, I was driving home and saw this pastor standing at a crosswalk. He recognized my car and had a sheepish expression on his face. However, the attitude of superiority and judgment was still there. I pretended I didn’t see him.

Every day it seems like members of the religious community are finding a new group to attack. My question is, when do they ever help? They stand and look at you in judgment, even as they spread hatred.

If the religious community can’t stand up for kindness then it’s a detriment to our society. You aren’t better than anyone because you read the Bible. In many cases, reading the Bible makes you worse.

As for me, I hope the number of people who mark their religious affiliation as “none” continues to grow for the good of all humanity.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI

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