By Jaguar Bennett | email@example.com
Of the many mysteries surrounding Adventure Church’s attempted purchase of the Tower Theatre, the one I find most mysterious is this: Why does Adventure Church Pastor Anthony Flores take such obvious delight in being a dick? From taunting protestors to confronting picketers to making snotty remarks to reporters — always with a fixed aggressive grin — Flores seems to deeply enjoy being rude to people.
In Flores’ circumstances, most ministers would want to look more conciliatory. After all, Flores has spent most of 2021 trying to force his church into a neighborhood that doesn’t want him. He’s had protests outside his Sunday services for months. He hasn’t been able to buy the property he wants because it’s tied up in a lawsuit. Even if the property were for sale, many people are calling for the city to seize it through eminent domain.
None of these problems would necessarily go away if Flores were a nicer guy. But most people have certain expectations of how a minister of a church should behave. Peacefully. Cooperatively. Showing concern for other people and the community. Humbly. Or at least politely. We know ministers are human beings. We don’t necessarily expect a minister to be Christ-like. But at a minimum, we do expect ministers to be somewhere in the ballpark of behavior that Christ would recommend.
And if Flores could meet that bare minimum of tolerable behavior, he might find it easier to persuade the public that he is a genuine man of God who intends the best for the Tower District. If Flores could show that he even partially understood the concerns of the Tower District community and was prepared to speak to those concerns, he might meet less opposition. At the very, very least, if Flores could behave like a normal person he might be taken more seriously by the judges and government officials that will ultimately decide the fate of the Tower Theatre.
Instead, Flores has not missed a single opportunity in nine months to be aggressively confrontational, even when it’s self-defeating. When community opposition to the sale first organized in January, Flores immediately released a video denouncing all opponents as “anti-God” and “racist.” When Fresno City Council members drew attention to zoning laws that prohibit community and religious assembly at the Tower Theatre, Adventure Church released a Facebook graphic describing the council members as “subversive.” When the city notified the Tower Theatre and Adventure Church that there were in violation of zoning, Flores immediately threatened a lawsuit against the city.
During nine months in the media spotlight, Flores has gone out of his way to court controversy and create a bad image for himself. He refuses to speak to reporters. Nearly every Sunday, he abandons his parishioners to stand out in front of the Tower Theatre to mock protesters. When Proud Boys counter-demonstrated in favor of Adventure Church, Flores didn’t denounce them — instead, Flores allowed himself to be on video warmly greeting right-wing extremists at a Larry Elder rally in Clovis.
Other ministers would try to win the confidence of the community before planting a church. Flores’ attitude toward the Tower District has been “Screw you. You can’t stop me.” Is this what Jesus would do?
But the dickishness is the point. As with Donald Trump, Anthony Flores’ goal is to project an image of defiance that is its own reward. Flores is a product of three dominant trends in American Christianity: (1) fear of women; (2) Christian Dominionism; and (3) backlash against gay rights.
Since the 1990s, American evangelical Christianity has been gripped by a bizarre terror that Christianity has become “feminized.” The turn-the-other-cheek virtues traditionally associated with the Prince of Peace and the Lamb of God, such as humility and compassion, are reevaluated as being too, you know, girly. American Jesus kicks ass and takes names, because he is not girly or queer. Flores’ sermons frequently feature panic over the role of men in modern society, claiming that his church has “reclaimed masculinity” and is a church where “It’s OK when men are men and when men know how to lead.”
Flores is also trying to make this fight as nasty as possible because he doesn’t want a resolution — he wants to score a point, to prove that churches are not bound by petty, man-made institutions like municipal zoning laws. Another recurring theme of American Christianity for the last 20 years has been an open desire for theocracy, to trim the First Amendment so that evangelical Christianity achieves a most-favored-religion status in American law. A peaceful resolution to the Tower Theatre crisis would deny Flores his chance to play a starring role in a court battle to establish that churches are, in fact, above the law.
It’s also no accident that Flores insists on buying the Tower Theatre and nothing else. He could have gone elsewhere; a realtor has assured me that old church buildings can be bought for a song these days. Adventure Church’s goal in buying the Tower Theatre is to deliberately antagonize gay people. Planting an anti-gay church in the Central Valley’s only gay neighborhood is meant to be a deliberate attack on gay people and their community support.
Flores is not just a minister who wants a home for his congregation. Flores wants to incite a culture war, and his persistent dickishness is his weapon of choice to make sure the war happens.