Satanists are trying to assert themselves in the quiet and conservative Plumstead
Plastid — Satanists. Proud boys. Non-baptism with burning pages of the Bible.
These are not the images that come to mind when I mention Plumstead, a usually sleepy town with a population of about 8,000, its rural farms and conservative-leaning town leaders.
Plumstead gained attention recently when members of the New Jersey chapter of The Satanic Temple, a non-theistic religious organization, and the Proud Boys, a far-right group, silently stampeded into City Hall during a “non-baptism” ceremony. The incident was first reported by Jersey Shore OnlineH.
This event was out of place for a city where prayers typically opened municipal meetings and church groups routinely met in municipal spaces. This is part of the reason members of The Satanic Temple are so interested in the community. Michael Silvestro Jr., or “Pastor Leviathan” as he is known among Satanic Temple members, said he was motivated by a desire to see more religious pluralism and equality.
“We were founded as a pluralistic country,” Silvestro said. “As a country, we cannot follow a particular religion, because it ultimately leads to extremism.”
The group was also drawn to Plumstead’s central location in the state, making it convenient for members from northern and southern New Jersey, Silvestro said. The group has about 600 followers on Facebook and about 20 regular attendees of its various events, such as its “Sippin’ with the Devil” coffee get-togethers, he said. A few of the members are Plumstead residents, he said.
When they’re not holding celebrations, members of The Satanic Temple work in a local community garden, donate to another religious group’s food pantry, and run a peer-to-peer parent support group, Silvestro said.
“We try to find support groups to help each other, be better people and be better for the community,” he said.
Despite its name, members of the temple do not worship Satan; Rather, they view Satan as a literary character with wonderful qualities, Silvestro said. He said that Satan rebelled against authority and defended his beliefs despite the difficulties facing him.
“He is the absolute rebel, the absolute antithesis of authoritarianism,” Silvestro said. “We look at that and try to embody those characteristics.”
Donations to the community garden and food pantry did not attract the attention of the Proud Boys and law enforcement at its meeting. Rather, the group’s non-baptism ceremony did. As part of the ritual, temple members used burned pages of the Bible.
“It is important to make clear that our use of burned Bible pages is not an act of hatred or disrespect toward Christianity,” Silvestro said. “Rather, it symbolizes personal liberation and freedom from doctrinal beliefs that some of our members viewed as oppressive or harmful.
He continued: “We recognize and respect the sanctity of the Bible in Christianity.” “Our intention is not to denigrate what is sacred to others, but to use symbolism that has meaning in our members’ personal journeys. These rituals are about individual empowerment and affirming our core principles, including compassion, personal autonomy, and the pursuit of knowledge.”
It was not clear whether the Proud Boys, who watched from the back of City Hall, were convinced.
For The Satanic Temple, Plumstead was an almost ideal location for an act of religious rebellion.
Baptist Pastor Dominic Cuozzo of Bible Baptist Church is the town’s newly appointed mayor.
In a phone interview, Cuozzo said he wants the town to be known for its legacy amenities — wineries, U-pick farms, an attractive downtown-and-country lifestyle — rather than as a place of religious or social friction.
“Our city gives opportunity to all local non-profit community groups…we want them to use our municipal facilities,” the mayor said. “I have no intention of treating anyone with discrimination at all, and I know they (the Satanic Temple) are trying to get us to do that, but we won’t do it. We believe that everyone has equal footing and we are very committed to that.” First Amendment rights for everyone. We will be fair.
Town Attorney Jean Cipriani echoed the mayor.
“The city has actually been very conscious of making sure that all groups, including The Satanic Temple, have an equal opportunity to use municipal facilities equally,” she said.
Temple members seek to hold regular meetings at City Hall from now on. In addition, Silvestro said he and another Satanic Temple member applied to perform the invocation at the beginning of Plumstead Town Commission meetings, but the commission gave the invocation job to another minister.
He was not deterred.
“We’ll try again next year,” Silvestro said.
Amanda Oglesby is an Ocean County native who covers education and the environment. I have worked in journalism for more than a decade. Contact her at @OglesbyAPP, firstname.lastname@example.org or 732-557-5701.
This article originally appeared on the Asbury Park Press: Members of the NJ Satanic Temple are settling in Plumsted, but they may not be who you think