I was not going to write a column on this. I really wasn't, and I even said as much to Carbon Hill Mayor Mark Chambers and Publisher James Phillips. But I think events are rushing at such a pace and intensity that I may have to.
Not that I would do it well. In the rush of this week, on Tuesday I thought, oh, that's why Mark didn't attend the council meeting. But everyone on that council has had so many absences — we wait and hold our breath each meeting — and for some reason in the haze of Tuesday morning my mind drifted to an earlier meeting where Chambers was not there and to a moment where we were waiting for people Monday night. Selective memory that I usually fight with others seemed to overtake me, and with alarmingly great certainty.
I don't know. It is the dumb little details you mess up in the all-day roar of a story like this. Anyway, stupid me had it bad wrong. Chambers was there at Monday's meeting, and I said he wasn't. If I had time to listen to the tape and write the regular Carbon Hill City Council story, it would have hit me. Wednesday night, I still haven't written the story, or even had time to follow up with legislators at the end of the Regular Session. This has not been a normal week.
Anyway, my stupidity aside, let's address the real story this week. Certainly it has been a rush of confusion, as Chambers apparently bungled on the privacy settings of Facebook and his remarks were exposed — at least to someone who must have told WBRC-TV, which had a reporter checking with him Monday.
This has not been the slam-dunk story people have considered it to be, as I think some media have rushed with the headlines to connect the dots. Without repeating all the statements here, you can look to see that Chambers was initially critical of LGBTQ, abortion supporters and the like being in the act to "lecture" others about morals and such, which some right there might take offensively.
As Chambers took down the comments — and eventually the whole Facebook page — it is harder for the rest of us outside of WBRC to know how this conversation flowed, because some of the pull quotes left me confused. Chambers said the other man he was conversing with was referring to civil war or revolution over such matters.
Chambers said that "the only way to change it would be to kill the problem out. I know it's bad to say but without killing them out there's no way to fix it."
So what problem specifically is he referring to? That is not completely clear, but the thread of the conversation we do know seems to give the impression that the problems they are discussing refer to the LGBTQ community, socialists and abortion supporters and the like, based on the first statement.
In the end, Chambers seemed to indicate that some of society's ills will not be solved until someone is killed out. And the things that would be killed out would be segments of society or at least fellow Americans. Killing out an idea was not what most people concluded.
Moreover, while he said his words were taken out of context, he has apologized repeatedly for the comments, indicating a sense of guilt either in actual meaning or in giving the wrong meaning, all of which was harmful. He should be commended for that — although it makes no sense to me to make a public apology on your personal Facebook instead of the city page, and then in hours to take down the personal page and not have the apology anywhere except for a screen shot I happened to take for the Daily Mountain Eagle Facebook page.
But here is the deal: Apologizing does not mean you escape consequences. Should the consequences include resignation?
I will say this, and it should be obvious: These words, through their implication, are "bad to say," as Chambers indicated. Perhaps we do not agree with these people. Perhaps we do not like their ideas. Perhaps we think their ideas do not fit our religious belief. That can be a very true statement to make in the Bible Belt.
Then again, many have never cared to drink alcohol, which has been opposed by some churches. No one ever said we should kill out the drinkers or the heads of the breweries. Churches have frowned on smoking, but that doesn't mean killing off the people who smoke or make the cigarettes.
We change minds with reason and discussion, and moving hearts to change, either one direction or the other. That is what America is about — or supposed to be, when we are not fear-mongered to death to act irrationally. (On the immigration issue, we have raised it to high art.)
And what did those brief comments lead to this week? I had a local homosexual call me today, telling me he has a husband and a child. He was concerned, among other things, with safety for his family, and, I took it, especially his child. As he put it, he just wanted to be left alone. He felt the comments and the controversy put his family in danger.
He was horrified when I warned him of the other development, which he thought was wrong. It turned out someone called in to First Baptist Church of Carbon Hill threatening essentially to burn the church down, and wishing those there got cancer. It was a profanity-laced, ugly recording that likely was from out of town and will never be traced down. But it was serious, and now other churches in Carbon Hill are concerned.
The homosexual, by the way, said he would be in prayer for the church, as he hated they would get that recording.
Frankly, as a heterosexual Southern Baptist, I am not going to weigh in on the homosexual issue except to say that no matter how we disagree or not, no one should hate that much or give up so much as to think our disagreements are only going to be solved in revolution, wiping out segments of the population. That was the impression given, and it has created fear in our midst. That should never, ever be our purpose, no matter how much we disagree on morals of society.
Meanwhile, we now know three city council members have been alarmed enough to call for a resignation. Surprising to me, Scott McCullar, the pastor of First Baptist, voluntarily said openly that Chambers should resign, even though he was nervous to do it and has nothing against Chambers.
"I don't think there is any question. That's probably going to get me in trouble to say that. But what other way is there? This has now gone global," noting the controversy over Chambers was even reported by the BBC in the Great Britain. "Our city needs peace and good press. It's for the good of the town and the good of the city. I think he should resign immediately, because you can't say things like that and have credibility as a leader. I think it would calm things down immediately if he stepped down."
For a small-town Southern Baptist pastor to say that is absolutely amazing, although if someone threatened to burn down your church over a mayor that you have no relationship with, I would think he has the right to speak.
I don't wish Mark a bad time. We have been able to work together. As it has been pointed out by Councilman Clarence Colbert, he did try to appoint a black police chief, he has worked hard to improve the finances and certainly to recruit the new truck stop. I think he has a soft place in his heart for some things, like children and churches.
However, the consequences are such that it may very well be time to do something drastic. Carbon Hill has been likely hurt in terms of economic development by this, with a shot to its character. CBS and the BBC carried this story, and it also gives a black eye to Walker County and to Alabama. (Many of the stories noted he was an "Alabama mayor.")
Could the story go away? Yes, but the stigma would remain. Would it be hard to find a replacement? It usually is. Could we just wait out the elections in 2020, or have Chambers announce now that he will not run for re-election next year? That could be a good compromise. Would resigning still be the most immediate, effective choice for the good of the community? Yes, it truly would be.
Do I enjoy any of this? No, no, I don't. It is sad and it hurts me this has happened. But some type of action needs to be done. Words have consequences, and I now have growing doubts at the pace of this mess that this can be resolved by one apology.
But whatever the case, we should all pray for Chambers, for Carbon Hill — and for each other, no matter our belief or lifestyle. We should pray for peace, forgiveness and understanding, and that wrongs should be made right in the best way for the community. Like the rest of America, we may be a community coming to terms with lifestyles and ideals that are foreign to some of us, with a nation that is changing at great pace with the thinking of a new generation. Time will tell how this will end.
But to move on, we have to hold on to that major commandment of Christ:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
I and others have much to think on in the aftermath of this ordeal. But let's just focus on Jesus' words first, and then move on to the right solutions for us all.
Ed Howell is the Daily Mountain Eagle's news editor.