In a startling reversal, the mayor of Lancaster, California—R. Rex Parris—held an interfaith press conference to walk back this comment, which he made twelve days previous to a gathering of 160 people:
We’re growing a Christian community, and don’t let anybody shy away from that…I need (Lancaster community) standing up and saying we’re a Christian community, and we’re proud of that.
According to Lancaster’s local newspaper, the Antelope Valley Press (February 9, 2010), the mayor was persuaded by some of his closest friends to change his position:
“It was about a week and a half ago that I spoke to the Christian ministerial association and said I wanted to grow a Christian community,” he said during a City Hall news conference. “But in talking to my friends of 30 years, it was clear that a lot of people felt excluded.”
Surprise, surprise. Lancaster is, afterall, in Los Angeles County, the most diverse county in the United States (maybe the world). It’s not Boise, Idaho.
Still, I give the mayor credit for not being a rigid person, and exercising some emotional flexibility and good sense. Here’s the Antelope Valley Press again:
Mayor R. Rex Parris issued an unequivocal apology to groups of any and all faiths who he said might have felt excluded by his remarks 12 days earlier to Christian ministers about “growing a Christian community.”
Any and all faiths? I don’t like that R. Rex Parris’s “unequivocal apology” to the diverse members of Lancaster’s various faith communities seems to have rendered atheists, agnostics, and the religiously unaffiliated invisible. As an agnostic living in Lancaster, I say that Parris’s newfound ecumenism has a blind spot:
“For us to have a vibrant and healthy community requires vibrant and healthy synagogues, mosques, churches and temples,” Parris said. “If we’re going to be a city of light, we need to be a Baptist light. Dr. Farrukh, we need a Muslim light. We need a city where we are free to be as bright as we can be.”
City of light? How about just a city with a bookstore? Ironically, Walden Books, the city’s only nonsectarian bookstore, closed down just this past month. That’s right. Amidst all the religious wrangling, Lancaster silently slipped into the dubious status of being a city of over 150,000 people without a general purpose bookstore. And as for something else that might make for a vibrant and healthy city: how about doubters as well as true believers? Doubters are bright too. If R. Rex Parris was going to mention Baptists and Muslims, he might also have said this: If we’re going to be a city of light, we need to be an atheist light.
Now that’s inclusive.
I think I’ll try to reach Mayor Parris and ask him if he meant for his unequivocal apology to include the tax paying atheists, agnostics, and religiously unaffiliated of Lancaster, and if his answer is “yes” I’ll ask him this follow-up question:
Why didn’t you say so?
I’ll keep you posted.
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LOL, city with a book store~ hahah, That’s a good one. I can’t believe Lancaster doesn’t have a book store. That’s pretty ridiculous.
its obvious why they dont have a book store. they cant sell books, they are ancient technology. and dont comment on my sentence structure that too is ancient. if you decide to change w the times that is. thx txtng.
as for the mayors views, i believe it is his views and standards that this city is improving from its past short comings. and next time don’t write a piece on something and tell in your piece that it is skewed toward your beliefs,”As an agnostic living in Lancaster, I say that Parris’s newfound ecumenism has a blind spot:”. He did speak it truthfully when he said”Mayor R. Rex Parris issued an unequivocal apology to groups of any and all faiths who he said might have felt excluded by his remarks 12 days earlier to Christian ministers about “growing a Christian community.” for the simple reason that athiests and agnostics do not have a faith based religion.
I lived in lancaster for 10 years. it is right next to palmdale. there is still a barnes and noble there. the two cities are basically one in the sense that many people do their shopping in palmdale. both communities are bedroom communities. most people commute long distances into los angeles. Palmdale and Lancaster have lots of people in aerospace industry. Then we have many more people who are poor. lancaster has a great library still. Our mayor is one of a kind. he is a republican surprisingly. I am left of bernie sanders by the way. He has a zeal for solving climate change and homelessness. as an agnostic, I am not offended by his remarks. The guy is busy working his ass off for community. if he actually read this article I am sure that he would consider changing his tune. lancaster has a very active faith community. They really put their money where their mouth is. they spend way more time feeding the homeless than they do on political issues (gays, abortion, etc). lancaster is miserable in many ways. hot, cold, windy, and poor. It is lucky to have such a mayor improving the city in so many ways.
even though I am no longer am christian since I renounced my faith at 12 years old. I can still see the wisdom in a handful of bible verses. When I think of Parris, I am reminded of the phrase you will know them by their fruit. in my early twenties, I despised anything religious or republican. this included parris. as a science teacher and a staunch progressive, I have seen how much his policies have helped our community. We lead the country in solar. we will soon have all electric buses. our downtown is revitalized full of low cost housing. my mom went to school with him, he has helped her every time she has called him. particularly after my mother was nearly killed by a pittbull. it did not take long for the laws to change after she lobbied him.
Since writing this post back in 2010, I’ve actually spent some time with Rex Parris, and I like him a great deal. He and I do not see eye to eye on religion, but I agree he’s a good mayor in many ways, and am happy to vote for him whenever his reelection comes up. I agree his environmental activism is life-affirming, and I support him wholeheartedly on that. He has the leisure, wealth, and intelligence to be a very good mayor, and he generally is (in my view).