As I’m sure most of you were, I was deeply saddened and angered by the New York Times article and the brutal concerns our city faces. As I read the article, my first reaction was to confront every single person mentioned in the article. I sent emails to the two churches mentioned, as well as Mayor Kleis. I did this through the “Contact Us” portions of their website. I received an email almost immediately from Mayor Kleis and I am still in the process of finishing that conversation with him. I made follow-up calls to the two churches and here is what happened.
I received a call back from the Pastor Sagissor at Faith Lutheran Church in St. Cloud. I opened the conversation calmly with, “I read the New York Times article and was wondering if you had the chance to read it as well”. Immediately, Pastor Sagissor went into defense mode and stated, “Yes, the group has met at our church, but the discussion was about abortion. It never was a discussion regarding immigrants or ‘Somalians’”. I could have debated the abortion issue with him as well, but that was not what the phone call was about.
“I get that the group came to your church to speak about an issue that concerns you both, but now, knowing what agenda Mr. Palmer and his group are trying to propagate, I am calling to ask that you reconsider ever allowing them to meet in your church again”, I said. I went on, asking that he holds himself and his church to a high moral standard. I explained that allowing someone with such an abhorrent agenda to be hold meetings there makes it seem that the church is promoting this agenda. I stated all of this with a calm and concerned voice.
The Pastor agreed to reconsider hosting C-Cubed and stated a few things that makes me believe that he will not host Mr. Palmer and the group in his church again. We continued the conversation, talking about community outreach programs that the church offers. I told him, “It is a wonderful thing for the church to offer help to everyone in the community. That was why I felt so strongly about calling and asking for your reconsideration regarding Mr. Palmer and his group.”
Pastor Sagissor then shared with me that he had received death threats and phone calls where people would yell at him and hang up the phone before allowing him to speak. His wife was afraid. “It pains me that anyone would call you and threaten death. Nothing I can say will take away the pain and fear of that action”, I said. Oh how I hope it was all just terrible rhetoric.
At the end of the phone call, Pastor Sagissor thanked me again for taking the time to speak to him as a human being and allowing him to talk. He thanked me for providing my contact information and name. He said throughout the conversation that he truly appreciated the phone call, that he could not put into words how much he appreciated the talk with me. I thanked him for taking the time to speak with me, and for reconsidering his position now that he knows more information.
I started this conversation with the belief that this was a person who was ignorant to the facts and that if he was kindly shown the information he was missing, he would see that he may have made an error. I appreciated the conversation we were able to have when we both came from a place of believing we are all human.
I called Pastor Campbell at Granite City Baptist Church in St. Cloud. I’m saddened to say that this conversation did not go as well as my previous one. The Pastor denied everything and couldn’t even bring himself to say that he would not allow speakers with a hateful agenda to speak at his church. He would only commit to not having a speaker preach hate in his church and that was only at the end of a long conversation. I do not feel he comes from the same place as Pastor Sagissor and I told him that. I wish it had gone better and I’m definitely going to continue to put pressure on him and his church regarding their support of such hate. He comes from a place of fear and I told him that as well. I will not repeat most of what he said during our conversation as I feel it is not something I would like to propagate. It was a calm but terrible conversation that left me saddened.
I am still following up, trying to talk with Mr. Palmer, and trying to follow-up with Mayor Kleis. I want to have more conversations with the opposition where we do not have to tear each other down. Hopefully we can build all of us up and in the process expect just a bit more out of each other.