BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
The Rev. Gregory Stevens, who resigned from the First Baptist Church of Palo Alto after his public tweets calling Palo Alto “disgusting” and an “elitist s*** den of hate” were criticized at a City Council meeting, said he stands behind his words in an interview with the Post yesterday.
Stevens, a self-described “queer” 28-year-old Florida native, stepped down after a resident sent pages of his now-deleted Twitter profile to council before a contentious hearing on May 14.
The tweets included venting about the difficulty of building a congregation, disparaging elderly attendees who fall asleep in church council meetings and criticizing cops, including the Palo Alto police.
He also posted, “I do not live in Palo Alto by choice. I cannot wait to leave! 3 months!” and “I hate ‘social justice’ in Palo Alto. What a f***ing joke.”
Stevens said he had thought his tweets were private and that they were intended for his community of progressive members of the clergy. He doubted that any of his tweets would surprise those he worked with at First Baptist, including in the interfaith, social justice-focused Mosaic South Bay program.
“That’s what got Jesus nailed to a cross, when he stood up to the Pharisees,” Stevens said, summing up how the Rev. Rick Mixon, the church’s senior pastor, had expressed his support to him through the ordeal.
Mixon said he didn’t recall using those words, but that if he had said something like that, it was “banter and not for quotation.”
Palo Alto values questioned
Stevens has criticized Palo Alto, including the ritzy Old Palo Alto neighborhood where the church is located, as being filled with “white, elitist liberals” with “radically anti-Jesus values.”
He said too many Palo Altans are more concerned with his online swear words than with homelessness and economic inequality in Silicon Valley.
Stevens remarked that the city had told him to apply for a $50 permit if he wanted to serve meals to the needy in a city park and mused that while those who live in RVs are ticketed and criminalized, wealthy Tesla drivers are rewarded with electric vehicle rebates.
Dozens of neighbors had turned out May 14 to weigh in on the church’s request to continue leasing space to outside tenants like the girls choir iSing Silicon Valley, dance groups and mental health counselors.
Councilwoman Karen Holman called the tweets “vile” and Vice Mayor Eric Filseth said they would make him think twice before sending children to the church.
Despite the distraction of the tweets, council voted 7-2 to grant the church a Conditional Use Permit to operate as a community center despite neighbors’ persistent complaints about noise and parking problems.
At one point, he said he was “disgusted” to see a neighbor come outside to film iSing girls to document the noise level.
“I’ve never made enough money in my life to… hate a girls choir,” Stevens said. “To me, that is the most obscure, insane, mind-blowing concept.”
Stevens didn’t grow up in the church, but joined the Baptist faith after he found a progressive, open-minded community there.
Ministering to marginalized people
He said he’s inspired by radical ministry that focuses on compassion and equality for marginalized people, including the poor, people of color and gay and trans individuals.
Stevens listed slave rebellion leader Nat Turner, Martin Luther King Jr. and Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton as some of his Baptist heroes. He added that Mixon was an “incredible mentor” who as a gay man, had fought against oppression for 23 years to be ordained in the Baptist church.
Stevens noted that he didn’t know anything about Palo Alto when he was hired as associate pastor for faith formation and family life at First Baptist in 2015, after earning his master’s degree at the Claremont School of Theology in Southern California.
“It was when I began to question why people were impoverished, why the earth was being destroyed by tech company pollution, and why black bodies were disproportionately murdered by the police, and excluded from corporate tech life, that problems began,” Stevens wrote in an email to the Post yesterday. “If you question the economic system that has centralized such extreme wealth, at the cruel expense of others, you will not be met with hugs and hymns.”
He had positive experiences with his diverse congregation and said that he had “absolutely loved” getting to know some longtime Palo Altans and admired the city’s “wonderfully rebellious history.”
Stevens said he now hopes to move to San Francisco and find employment with a socially progressive church or nonprofit.