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A 28-year old associate pastor with the First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, California, has righteously called out hypocrisy of liberals in Silicon Valley. Pastor Gregory Stevens held nothing back in a series of tweets: "Palo Alto is an elitist shit den of hate," Stevens wrote, in one tweet. "Any church that's not explicitly anti-capitalist isn't a church. It's a social club," he wrote in another.
Those tweets – which surfaced ahead of a city council meeting -- were followed soon after by his resignation, which was then followed by Pastor Stevens getting a smidgeon of Roseanne Barr/Samantha Bee-like national attention.
Stevens has an interesting story. He grew up in a conservative Christian family in Florida. He also grew up gay. As The Atlantic's Alana Semuels recently reported: "After finishing seminary at the progressive Claremont School of Theology, in Southern California, Stevens got a job as a pastor in Palo Alto, one of the wealthiest communities in the country, where the median family income is around $163,000 and the median home price is over $3 million."
Perhaps naïve, Stevens expected that wealthy liberals in Silicon Valley gave more then lip service to the issues they cared about. He certainly did his part to get community youths involved in activism. According to Semuels, Stevens "created a chapter of the Food Not Bombs meal-share group, planted a Black Lives Matter sign in the church's yard (it was promptly stolen), and set about preaching what he believed: that to truly help eradicate inequality, people needed to rethink capitalism."
It was the idea of rethinking capitalism that stirred the ire of his wealthy neighbors. "To me, that larger systemic critique is what we should be doing, because otherwise, we're never really getting to the actual problem," he told Semuels.
In emails to the Guardian, the 28-year-old minister wrote: "I believe Palo Alto is a ghetto of wealth, power, and elitist liberalism by proxy, meaning that many community members claim to want to fight for social justice issues, but that desire doesn't translate into action. The insane wealth inequality and the ignorance toward actual social justice is absolutely terrifying."
He added: "The tech industry is motivated by endless profit, elite status, rampant greed, and the myth that their technologies are somehow always improving the world."
According to Semuels, it was a local resident's persistent complaints about the church hosting certain events that caused him to reach a boiling point. The resident "used Stevens' tweets as a weapon in the course of a long-running feud with the church. The resident was trying to convince the city that the First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, which has been located on the same street corner since 1947, should no longer be able to host secular activities. A small group of neighbors have complained in recent years that traffic and noise from activities like a girls' choir, a music school, a therapist, and a folk-dancing group are too disruptive to the neighborhood and should be curtailed. Though the church paid to install air conditioning and has soundproofed windows in order to minimize the noise, neighbors continued to push to prohibit the church from holding any activities that weren't church activities."
While Stevens' tweets may have been a bit over the top, the issues he is talking about is seminal to understanding what's happening in Silicon Valley. As the Guardian's Sam Levin pointed out, "The underlying messages to Stevens' tweets, however, touched on continuing tension in Silicon Valley, where some of the world's wealthiest companies and entrepreneurs have pledged to better the world through innovations, yet working-class families and poor residents struggle to afford the most basic necessities. The region has one of the worst homelessness crises in the country and a huge shortage of affordable housing, forcing tens of thousands of low-income workers to commute more than 50 miles to work."
"Jesus was a homeless Jew who said it was harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to get through the eye of a needle," he wrote, adding: "It is very difficult to do Christian ministry, a ministry that calls us to fight with and for the poor and marginalized among us, in the midst of an enclave of wealth and power."
Stevens also pointed out that instead of reaching out to poor and minority communities, the tech sector has destroyed neighborhoods, noting that "The working class does not benefit from these 'advances', but cook, clean, and baby sit rich babies before heading off to home on long hours of public transit."
"While [senior pastor Rick] Mixon doesn't agree with the ways Stevens publicly criticized the community, Stevens, Mixon told [Semuels] is doing some of the same things Jesus did—challenging the system loudly and dramatically, rattling the cages of the people in power."
Where Stevens winds up next is yet to be determined. His critique, however, is worthy of consideration as the tech industry continues to gobble up communities and pay lip service to progressive values.