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A controversial Pastor whose ministry is on the Southern Poverty Law Center list of hate groups, claims to have had his BitPay account shut down. Steven L Anderson, leader of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, claimed in a blog post titled “Paypal is Not our Pal” that several payment processors closed his accounts, including Bitcoin processor BitPay.
It comes as no surprise that Paypal, Givlet and Qgiv would cancel Anderson’s account. They have been closing accounts of controversial and outright repugnant companies, people and causes for years. Most famously, Paypal joined major credit card processors in blocking donations to Wikileaks in 2010. That BitPay, a company that facilitates the exchange of Bitcoin into fiat currencies for merchants and users, would close an account of someone not convicted or even accused of a crime, is a bit more surprising.
We contacted BitPay for comment but they would not provide any details. “No comment. BitPay does not comment on merchant’s account or activity” we also reached out to Anderson, but have not heard back at press time. Assuming Anderson’s story is correct, it seems BitPay has taken the same stance of its more traditional payment processor counterparts when it comes to financing hate groups.
Since the posting of the article, Paypal donations and purchases have returned to the Church’s site. There are no options for any other payment processors.
Steven L Anderson and his “Faithful World” Baptist church consider themselves to be “fundamentalists” and have drawn heat for, among other things, their views on homosexuals. In a blog post in response to the Orlando shooting, Anderson stated that he ”would hope that most fundamental Baptists weren’t mourning a bunch of perverts carousing in a ‘gay’ bar” and frequently refers to the LGBT community as “sodomites.”
In a video response to the same incident he stated that “The good news is that there are 50 less pedophiles in the world, because these homosexuals are a bunch of perverts and pedophiles.” He later continued “The bad news is that a lot of the homos in the bar are still alive, so they are going to continue to molest children and recruit people into their filthy homosexual lifestyle.” That video was removed from YouTube, but was picked up by media outlets and re-posted elsewhere.
Anderson has also taken heat for advocating that the death penalty be applied to adultery, the execution of every homosexual in America in order to “cure” AIDS, and that the country would be better off if President Obama died in office.
What Should BitPay’s Role Be In This?
Anderson’s views are worth noting because it explains, if not justifies, BitPay’s alleged decision to close Anderson’s account. That said, bitcoin is often called an uncensorable technology and the ability to send bitcoin to anyone, anywhere is a major selling point of the technology. That still holds true. Anderson could accept bitcoin donations without the help of BitPay or any other Bitcoin payment processor. He may run into issues trying to turn bitcoin into fiat. But Anderson could sell his DVDs and take donations without any payment processors.
The real issue is that bitcoin’s core technology is opaque to the average consumer. The solution has been to depend on third parties to make the experience user friendly. What obligation do third parties like BitPay have to embody the tenants of bitcoin itself? Anderson’s views are repugnant, but many people around the world feel that Edward Snowden is a traitor and that Ross Ulbricht was a drug dealer poisoning our youth. How would the Bitcoin community feel if BitPay cut off donations to those causes?
It is often said that freedom of speech only works if it is applied across the board. The same could be applied to the “freedom of financial transactions” that bitcoin supposedly affords us.
Those are intentionally bad examples, because neither Snowden nor the FreeRoss campaign use BitPay; they both have dedicated bitcoin addresses. But using these admittedly bad examples allows me to illustrate another point. Putting aside his views for a moment, Anderson is representative of people who are technically competent enough to use payment processors like Paypal and BitPay, but are not likely to be technically capable of running Bitcoin Core. Bitcoin can be used without companies like BitPay. But does Anderson know that? His first bitcoin experience certainly wasn’t of a technological tool, free of outside influence. It sounds like his experience and by proxy his follower’s experience, was similar to that with traditional payment processors. That seems like a failure to me.
Anderson and his followers hold horrible views. That doesn’t change the fact that his church is hundreds or thousands strong. These are people who may have discovered Bitcoin as a technology that is indifferent to their political and religious views. Instead, their leader is telling them that Bitcoin doesn’t want them.
On the other hand, BitPay isn’t preventing Anderson from accepting Bitcoin for payments or donations because they can’t. Rather, they are simply refusing to help him do that. If someone I didn’t like asked me to help them exchange some bitcoin for dollars, I wouldn’t be under any obligation to help them. So, why should BitPay? When I attempted (unsuccessfully) to contact Anderson, I didn’t offer any information on how he could use bitcoin without Bitpay.
Everyone wants Bitcoin to be accepted by the masses. Should we as a community praise or decry BitPay’s decision to not service the hateful segments of the masses?
Assuming that BitPay did shut down Anderson’s account and that it wasn’t due to a court order, it begs the question: should BitPay be forced to facilitate the movement of money to a group it finds reprehensible? Morally and legally, the question may be up for debate. Let’s assume BitPay’s goal is to bring bitcoin and its benefits to the masses and not simply be a payment processor that happens to use bitcoin. Does it need to accept the entirety of “the masses” or can it surgically cut out the pieces it doesn’t like? Not if it is promoting financial freedom. I’m not sure if that is BitPay’s goal, but it should be the goal of bitcoiners everywhere.