I saw the news last week in a Facebook group: “Stupid Jerkface Preacher Holds a Book Burning.” The news did not surprise me, the ignorant and cowardly have been hosting book burnings for hundreds of years, and I reacted to the news the way I normally react to such things: by researching the event. In less than thirty seconds it was obvious that Jerkface was the leader of a small and pretty much insignificant congregation, their Twitter following is about 3500 people. (Eli Gemstone this guy is not.)
As I write this I’m sad to see that Jerkface Preacher has increased his Instagram followers by a substantial degree, but that was the point right? This guy knew what he was doing. It was all about doing something so outrageously stupid and close minded that people would write about it, and then Jerkface Preacher would use that notoriety to increase his standing in the culture wars. Mission accomplished Jerkface Preacher! You’ve made the hateful splash you wanted to make!
(This story has parallels in the Fake Gospel of Matthew where Jesus blames the Samaritans for the Pan grotto outside of Jerusalem and the prevalence of magickal papyri in the year 33 CE. In a later striking passage that doesn’t exist, Jesus dramatically throws a bunch of scrolls written by the Essenes at Qumran onto a blazing fire.)
This morning a friend texted me about the book burning and said they would go down to Tennessee (I graduated high school from that state, what has happened to you Volunteer State!?!?) themselves if anyone threw one of my books on the fire. I replied that I didn’t think that was necessary and was fine with people burning my books, as long as they had paid for them so I could get my 90 cents in royalties. (Also, taking a used book off the market is probably good for me too, but if you need to buy used by all means do, I like you!) Do I want people to burn my books? Of course not. Do I want people to burn any books? Super of course not, but the way to deal with people like Pastor Jerkface is not through dramatic confrontations, it’s by being the best version of ourselves.
It sounds so simple and trite right? Being “the best version of ourselves.” If you want to bind an image of Pastor Jerkface and throw it in your freezer I don’t blame you. Tackling the problem with some aggressive magick sounds pretty good, and in some ways taking action is being the best version of ourselves. I don’t think we should stand on the sidelines when we witness wrongs and transgressions, but I’m not sure a Christian burning Harry Potter books is the type of wrong I really want to deal with. The only way to possibly change the opinion of people like Pastor Jerkface and his flock is to engage with the world and not be an asshole.
Yelling loudly about what Witches do and do not is not generally effective. Being a good neighbor and mowing someone’s lawn when they are sick has a lot of potential to be effective. It’s likely that people will learn to hate Witches less if they see that you are a kind and decent person. Being the person that argues the Bible loudly with your Evangelical neighbor is most likely going to be unproductive.
Now can people like Pastor Jerkface actually change their opinions? I’m guessing not, they are addicted to hating others and the notoriety it brings. I’m sure it makes them feel special and gives them a purpose in life. But also at the same time giving two shits about Pastor Jerkface on my end doesn’t do me much good either. If I rant about him all day or share articles about him, or engage with his followers on Instagram I’m just throwing more oxygen onto his fire. Caring about Pastor Jerkface distracts from very real issues in our community.
I’m not sure Don Draper from Mad Men is the best place to acquire life philosophies but there’s a scene where a co-worker says to him “I feel bad for you.” Without missing a beat Draper replies: “I don’t think about you at all.” You want to take power away from somebody? Don’t think about them at all. What is forgotten, dies.
Of course we can’t ignore everything, to do so would have have dire consequences, and I’m not suggesting anyone turn a blind eye to things that are important. Someone in your local community starting a coven in order to manipulate people into their bed is a big f’ing deal. It should be dealt with. It’s in your back yard and will probably effect someone in your local community. In such an instance YOU HAVE THE POWER to help fix a problem, and you should wield that power. Ignoring what’s going on in Congress is also neglectful and unproductive, but focusing on stupid comments aimed primarily at a base that only wants to “own the libs” is also unproductive. What is productive is engaging with the bigger picture and doing what you can to do change that picture.
I’m of the opinion that Paster Jerkface is a completely different sort of problem than someone like Mitch McConnell. One person undermines democracy by packing the courts, ignoring over half the country, and just generally be an obstructionist monster. The other bad actor I’m referencing here has no power over me unless I give him power. Pastor Jerkface enjoys it when he irritates us, and every time we share an article about him on social media we are firing up the alogrith that puts more and more of that hate and stupidity center stage. Social media loves outrage, and it loves for you to be mad about trivial things, that way you don’t see the harm platforms like Facebook and Instagram shower upon the world.
There has been a loud and vocal minority in the evangelical Christian Community who have been rabidly anti-occult for decades and certainly these people have become problematic in the past. The Satanic Panic was a very real thing, and lives were ruined because of it. We should be forever vigilant, but jumping into the pit of outrage and anger over marginal publicity seekers like Pastor Jerkface don’t solve that problem. People will double down on bad ideas when called on it confrontationally. It is sometimes fun to poke the bear though? Sure, but arguing and engaging with folks like Pastor Jerkflace and his flock of the misguided just gives those people more energy.
(Since originally writing this piece and before hitting publish I see that the Wild Hunt decided to post an article about Pastor Jerkface, I’m sure he’ll love that. In writing this piece I made a conscious decision not to use Pastor Jerkface’s real name to reduce the chances of him seeing it and walking around all smug and proud.)
In the greater Witchcraft community I’m much more concerned about transphobia, racism, homophobia, and addressing issues of inclusion and acceptance. Focusing on Pastor Jerkface distracts from that work. Before worrying about the hate and bile of others I’d much rather focus on building the best version of myself, and the best version of the Witchcraft community.
I suspect many of you will disagree with me on this issue, as a society we seem to have completely embraced confrontation. If you disagree with me, have at it, but I do urge you to ask yourself “what are you doing to fix the problem?” Will getting mad about Pastor Jerkface change his opinions or the opinions of his flock? Instead of sharing a post on the latest outrage by close minded Christians who are unlikely to ever embrace you, maybe share a post on how the Supreme Court has quietly been rolling back voting rights, allowing Republicans to gerrymander without consequences, will soon end affirmative action, legalize cruel and unusual punishments in death penalty cases, and seem intent on carving out an even larger place of privilege for white Christians in America. These are the things that should truly anger you, not a two-bit Jerkface Preacher in Tennessee doing stupid and hateful things as stupid and hateful people do.