Amid expressions of concern from a broad range of Kingston (Ontario) citizens, Mayor Bryan Paterson has opted to distance himself from Third Day Worship Centre and the preaching of Pastor Francis Armstrong.
Controversy around the eastern Ontario church community arose from a YouTube video containing clips from some of Armstrong’s past sermons. The clips included accusations of “known terrorist activity” at the mosque down the street, COVID-19 conspiracy theories, and disparaging comments against the LGBTQ community.
In an open letter on his mayoral website, Paterson says he’s taken some time to “reflect and consider” the feedback he’s heard about his relationship with Third Day and Pastor Armstrong.
I truly appreciate the concerns and disappointment as I share these feelings as well. There were excerpts that were hurtful and divisive, and that is completely unacceptable.
I know many of you were hurt by these comments, confused, angry, or felt personally attacked or undermined. For that, I’m deeply sorry. The views expressed in these videos do not reflect my heart, my core beliefs, or the vision of inclusion and respect I have for our community. For this reason, I’ve decided [to] step away from Third Day Worship Centre. I want to demonstrate that I’m committed to representing everyone in our community.
It would be better, of course, if Paterson had walked out years ago; some of Armstrong’s divisive hate-peddling sermons date back to as early as 2014. There’s something that rings hollow about a decision to walk away from the church only after his membership became a political scandal.
On the other hand, there’s also room to give him the benefit of the doubt: A lot of former churchgoers will attest that sitting through a sermon is not the same as actually accepting all of its contents. (See: Obama, Barack.)
Either way, Paterson continues to insist that his religious beliefs do not impact his level of respect for fellow citizens nor his governance decisions as mayor:
When I initially considered running for City Council 10 years ago, I made a conscious decision to keep my faith and my responsibility as an elected official separate. Not because I was trying to hide my faith, but rather to respect the diversity of beliefs we have in our community, and to represent all people regardless of background, religion, or ethnicity. For years I’ve been able to do just that — keep church and state separate — and so to have my beliefs become a news story is an uncomfortable space to occupy.
… Anyone who knows me knows that ensuring people feel heard, valued, and supported is what drives a lot of the decision-making in my life. In the coming days, I will continue to lead this City the best way that I can, to build bridges and not walls, to foster greater understanding, and to represent you with integrity and respect.
Leaving a church where the preacher gives sermons antithetical to those goals is a step in the right direction. Here’s hoping it’s motivated by sincerity, not just optics.