Some years ago, I attended a press conference held by notorious anti-abortion zealot Randall Terry. There weren't many people at the event, and afterward Terry asked me where I was from.
When I told him I worked at Americans United, he replied, "You and Barry Lynn had better watch it – you're going to hell!"
I rolled my eyes and shrugged it off. I expect that sort of thing from a guy like Terry, so it was no big deal. In his view, pretty much everyone is going to hell.
But I wouldn't expect such a comment – and I wouldn't tolerate it – from a government official.
So imagine how some people in Vallejo, Calif., felt recently after Mayor Osby Davis told The New York Times that gay people don't go to heaven.
The Times went to Vallejo to examine a culture clash that is under way in the down-on-its-heels community northeast of San Francisco. Gay couples have been pleased to find affordable housing in town and are buying up old Victorians in need of restoration. The city's gay community is growing and starting to flex some political muscle.
But not everyone is happy about the changes. Powerful evangelical churches are rallying their members and attacking openly gay candidates seeking public office. There was also an incident of harassment against a gay student in the local schools.
Instead of working to calm this situation, Davis made it worse. In a Nov. 20 interview with The Times, Davis, a member of the Assemblies of God denomination, opined that gays are "committing sins and those sins will keep them out of heaven."
An uproar ensued, and Davis tried to say he was misquoted. But The Times quickly posted an audio link of the interview. Davis was busted and issued an apology.
As San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson notes today, Davis "breached the separation between church and state and grabbed the electrified 'third-rail' in Bay Area politics with both hands."
"The trouble with Davis' claim – and a written apology issued later – is that there is no appropriate context suitable for such a statement, especially when it's uttered by an elected official," Johnson wrote.
Johnson has put his finger right on the problem. Elected officials simply have no business judging the salvation of their constituents. Davis is the mayor of everyone in town, and that includes the Christians, the Jews, the Buddhists, the Hindus, the atheists and so on.
As mayor, Davis should have more than enough to do dealing with the budget, seeing that municipal services are provided and so on. Where his constituents might or might not spend eternity really isn't any of his concern.
One more thought on this: I've never been to Vallejo, but The Times article paints a pretty grim picture: The newspaper notes that "closed businesses proliferate," "the city has declared bankruptcy" and "a court battle threatens to strip firefighters of expensive salaries and benefits."
In light of these problems, an influx of people who are renovating run-down houses, paying taxes and creating a stable, livable neighborhood sounds like a plus. Mayor Davis and the anti-gay evangelicals in town would do better to welcome the newcomers rather than toss gasoline on the always-smoldering embers of intolerance.