In Divisive Decision City Council Denounces Mayor for Attendance at ‘Let Us Worship’ Event
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News Story by Cassy Benefield | FāVS News
The Spokane City Council voted 4-3 Monday night in favor of denouncing Mayor Nadine Woodward for her appearance onstage with Matt Shea and Sean Feucht at the controversial “Let Us Worship” event she attended just over a month ago.
As the last item on the agenda, the resolution’s open comment period came at the end of the nearly five–hour council meeting with 33 people commenting and all the members of the council making a statement before the vote.
Who are Shea and Feucht?
While Feucht’s self-identity as a Christian nationalist troubles Woodward’s critics and other local religious leaders, her appearance on stage praying with Shea was highlighted in more than half of the resolution’s text.
Shea is well-known in the region as former Washington State legislator connected to and for participation in domestic terrorism, advocating the creation of a new state called Liberty and his “Biblical Basis for War” manifesto. He is currently the pastor of On Fire Ministries and host of Patriot Radio, a podcast for “Christian Patriots in the Defense of Liberty.”
Feucht, who may not be as well known locally, is known nationally for his worship tours, which began as protests to government mandates limiting Christian gatherings during the pandemic.
In July, religious leaders throughout the Pacific Northwest wrote a letter to government leaders in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, calling out Feucht’s anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry in response to his 50-state “Kingdom to the Capitol” tour. This tour was held in tandem with his “Let us Worship” tour, which came through Spokane.
Public Comment on the Resolution
At the council meeting, Council President Lori Kinnear gave more than a few warnings throughout the open comment period to maintain order and decorum, but that did not stop some of those in attendance from disrupting the event with applause, audible comments and even singing “Amazing Grace” and praying the “Lord’s Prayer.”
Most of the public who commented were against the resolution to denounce the mayor, with several of them not actual residents of Spokane, but Spokane Valley.
Just more than a handful of the speakers were in favor of the resolution, two of whom specifically representing larger groups, one representing 44 from Faith Leaders and Leaders of Conscience and the other representing 357 signers of a petition sponsored by the Spectrum Center and the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane.
Those for and against the resolution used the same language of separation of church and state, religious freedom and fighting against hate as reasons for their views.
The Public’s Arguments
Terry Hill, the first speaker, was one of the few who spoke in favor of denouncing Woodward.
He ended his time with this warning to the council.
“Your vote tonight will be part of your legacy, part of your legacy on your time on the council, vote wisely,” Hill said.
Later in the meeting, Patriot Church Pastor Jay MacPherson said he felt he was being denounced along with the mayor because he also attended the worship event and had encouraged his congregation to do the same.
He used his time to push back against the resolution’s language in paragraph 12 that states: “Whereas, on August 24, 2023, the Spokane City Council received a letter from a collective of Spokane faith leaders in which they called on the Spokane City Council to hold fast to the separation of church and state, reject attempts to cloak bigotry in religious language, and make clear that civic leaders give no support to the ideology of Christian Nationalism or white supremacy.”
“What is Christian nationalism? What do those who put on that … worship service have to do with white supremacy? Nothing.” McPherson said. “Whoever wrote this resolution is simply lying. White supremacy? We hate white supremacy … if we thought any of the people putting that on were white supremacist, we would not be there.”
Council Members Comment on the Resolution
After an hour and a half of public comment, the City Council members spoke. Nearly all referred to their own faith backgrounds.
Council Member Betsy Wilkerson said she was the daughter of two pastors and the grandmother of three and gave her reasons for voting in favor.
“I just want to say we must experience some personal discomfort when dearly held beliefs are challenged especially when these beliefs translate into actions that might harm our neighbors,” she said.
Referring to Shea, she also said, “I cannot stand by as the mayor of our city stands with a man who used religion to cloak bigotry.”
She also said that Shea using the language of “fire” for calling out the LGBTQ community was irresponsible as many in the community don’t understand that fire means Holy Ghost fire as one public commenter pointed out to defend the event’s language.
“The challenge is that not everybody understands that and understands the Bible and religion like we do. So we have to be clear about that,” Wilkerson said. “This issue is not about condemning; it is about condemning hate and not about freedom. … this includes condemning when leaders stand shoulder to shoulder with those that called for harm upon our neighbors.”
A Singular View for and against the Resolution
Ryan Oelrich — the newest member of the council, a member of the LGBTQ community and a former pastor — said he memorized the entire books of Matthew, Acts and Romans in the Bible growing up as a “Bible quiz kid.”
While denouncing the hate and division caused by Shea and Feucht, he made a motion to defer the vote one week so he could read the legal analysis brought up by Council Members Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle that he missed. That motion was voted against and led him to then vote no on the resolution.
“In full transparency I was fully ready to vote to denounce, but as a steward of the citizens of Spokane’s resources, I really thought it was important that we hear our legal counsel’s opinions, especially since my colleagues brought that up,” he said. “I want to listen to those experts. So that’s what it entirely came down to.”
The Final Vote
Council Members Cathcart, Bingle and Oelrich voted to not pass the resolution, while Council Members Wilkerson, Zack Zappone, Karen Stratton and Kinnear voted in favor.
After the gavel hit the sound block to Kinnear’s words, “meeting is adjourned,” many in the audience were notably upset, one man calling the City Council “sycophants and cowards.”
Not all were keen to name call, such as Lyle Dach, who also gave public comment in support of Woodward.
Before the event, he said that if the mayor was denounced, it would set a precedent for people like him to be denounced.
“Once they officially give her that label, then it seems like they just tag on whatever they want afterwards, pretty carelessly,” Dach said. “Look at all the labels he (Shea) carries with him, not really convicted of anything, ever. But yet, those labels seem to stick in every story like he did actually commit those crimes, when it’s a legend.”
He said those labels then get transferred to Woodward and by default him.
After the vote, he was critical of how the council members in favor of the denouncement used facts loosely to prove their point, but that he was resigned to the decision.
“It is what it is,” he said.
The mayor declined to be interviewed for this story.
Cassy (pronounced like Cassie but spelled with a ‘y’) Benefield is a wife and mother, a writer and photographer and a huge fan of non-fiction. She has traveled all her life, first as an Army brat. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer (2004-2006) to Romania where she mainly taught Conversational English. She received her bachelor’s in journalism from Cal Poly Technical University in San Luis Obispo, California. She finds much comfort in her Savior, Jesus Christ, and considers herself a religion nerd who is prone to buy more books, on nearly any topic, than she is ever able to read. She is the associate editor of FāVS.News.