Despite protests on social media last week, Saturday’s public bonfire presented by a local church pastor went off without a hint of trouble.
However, organizer Tony Falcone of Mountain View Chapel, backed off the idea of burning books, tarot cards and other items that don’t bring glory to God. Instead, attendees wrote sins they wanted to be cleansed of before Easter on paper and threw them into the fire.
Falcone said he was pleased with the turnout of close to 100, even though the term “book burning” was not an accurate representation of the planned event, but the term was the small part of the event critics quickly latched onto.
“I think a lot of people took it as all of a sudden now I’m Hitler,” he said. “Even still, we brought in close to a hundred people there were no protesters there. I had many people telling me they loved what we did because there were no bad incidents and the end result was perfect.”
Despite Falcone’s claim that a book burning was not an accurate representation of the Easter eve sin-cleansing bonfire, his own flyer encouraged participants to bring anything “that does not bring glory to God… idols, satanic music, dirty magazines and books … Tarot cards, (Ouija) boards, pornography.”
He also called the Times on April 2, thanking the newspaper for the previous day’s article, “Pastor to lead book burning, public bonfire on Saturday.”
“It’s a fantastic article,” Falcone said. “Everyone loves it,” mentioning that a television news crew was on their way to interview him for a news story.
Pastor Dennis Boylan of Pahrump’s It Is Finished Ministries was one of several clergy from area churches that attended. He too said the nature of the event could have been better communicated to local residents.
“Book burnings have a very bad reputation and it’s not what we’re about,” he said. “This is an offering to the Lord because Jesus was the last sacrifice and there are none after that for sin. In the Old Testament they had to keep sacrificing and when Jesus came and they put him on the cross he was a sinless sacrifice. He had no sin.”
Boylan also said he was not surprised by the fact that zero protesters showed up at the event, despite the outcry online.
“I did not think there would be protests because we are not here to debate anybody’s beliefs,” he said. “We are here to share the love of Jesus and that’s why we knew this was going to be just fine tonight. There’s anywhere from 15-to-18 ministries here. “We didn’t tell people they could not come just because they believe in something different than we do. Everybody is welcome in the kingdom of God and that’s probably why it’s so peaceful here tonight, it’s a family of one.”
Undersheriff Brent Moody and a couple of Nye County Sheriff’s deputies kept a watchful eye on the event, parking marked vehicles on Manse Road across from the event.
Dr. Tom Waters, a former Pahrump Town Board member, attended the bonfire with one purpose in mind.
“I had something that I wanted to put in the fire as well because there are some people in my life that I’ve had bad thoughts about,” he said. “I wrote them down and threw it into the fire.”
Waters said when discussions began about the event, there was no actual talk of burning books at the event.
“We have the Christian Men’s Breakfast every Thursday morning where we talked about this and at no time we talked about any kind of book burning,” Waters said. “We talked about burning things that we would like to get out of our lives. There are many people who have a problem with smoking, and this would be something they want to turn over to, whether if it’s drinking, or another bad habit or thought.”
Falcone’s wife, Cindi, said her husband began receiving threatening phone calls shortly after news of the bonfire spread through town and beyond, as news outlets from Las Vegas arrived in Pahrump for the bonfire.
“He was receiving threatening phone calls from people saying there would be fights here and religious articles would be burned,” she said. “We told them that it’s not true and we were just burning up our sins or anything that would keep us separated from God, such as attitudes.”
Pastor Tom Gilbert from Pahrump’s Truth in Life Ministries said he and several congregation members wanted to simply come out and support the community bonfire.
“We are taking a stand for one person only and that’s the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “I have some stuff that I wrote down that went into the fire.”
Although many residents initially misunderstood the purpose of the event according to organizers, Pastor Falcone said he would like to see the bonfire become a regular community gathering.
“I’m going to propose that we do it again,” he said. “It’s not something that I would do every year, but maybe next year a different church will want to do it and take on that responsibility. That way we will all get a turn to do it and make it an annual event. I think it would be great.”
Falcone also said he was kind of surprised at the reaction within the community.
“Despite everything that happened it was a wonderful event and very peaceful,” he said. “I learned that bad press can become good press. The bad press brought a lot more attention to what we were doing and I think it attracted a few more people who came out to see what we were doing.”