LOS ANGELES (RNS) — At a virtual news conference on Wednesday (Jan. 13), the Rev. Stephen “Cue” Jn-Marie of the advocacy group Clergy for Black Lives condemned a pair of Los Angeles homeless outreach events on Dec. 30 and 31 by a group of conservative Christians led by musician Sean Feucht.
Jn-Marie — who founded The Row, or “The Church Without Walls,” in Skid Row — compared the musician’s Skid Row outreach, as Los Angeles was experiencing an explosion of COVID-19 cases, to “white supremacist violence and heretical Christian prophecy” in the nation’s capital.
Jn-Marie was accompanied on the call by Shane Claiborne of Red Letter Christians; Dave Gibbons, founding pastor of Newsong Church; Jenna Kyle, a member of the Poor People’s Campaign; the Rev. James Thomas of the Living Word Community Church; Tabatha Jones Jolivet with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles; and Sharon Brous, who serves as senior rabbi of IKAR.
Feucht’s events in the homeless communities in Echo Park and Skid Row, a 54-block area of downtown, were part of his national “Let Us Worship” tour that protests COVID-19 restrictions. The two days of outreach culminated with a New Year’s Eve celebration at the parking lot of Higher Vision Church in the city of Valencia, more than 30 miles away.
The tour, which Feucht refers to as the #letusworship movement, has been criticized by health officials and faith leaders alike for drawing thousands of spectators and worshippers, many ignoring social distancing guidelines and health orders requiring masks.
Kyle, during the news conference, demanded city officials be held responsible for not stopping Feucht and his followers from visiting the overwhelmingly Black community. Kyle said more than 60 faith leaders across the state and hundreds within the Poor People’s Campaign network called Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda L. Solis to urge them to halt Feucht’s visit.
Kyle said Feucht’s followers were largely unmasked, did not socially distance and were laying hands on residents of Skid Row.
“Bringing a virus into a community that does not have adequate tools to protect itself, in the name of God, is immoral as it is dangerous,” Kyle said.
“The false moral narrative of Christian nationalism is a threat to us beyond Feucht,” she added. “It cannot be separated from the far right extremism we witnessed in the U.S. Capitol.”
The Rev. Andy Bales, CEO of Union Rescue Mission in Skid Row, said in a Jan. 8 interview with Religion News Service Feucht’s visit “could explain some of the surge we’re currently experiencing in the streets,” though it’s unclear whether an increase in COVID-19 cases could be attributed directly to the New Year’s weekend visit. Cases have been rising in Skid Row since late November, Bales said.
Jn-Marie said he believes a car rally and blockade he and groups, like the Los Angeles Community Action Network, organized to protest Feucht’s visit convinced some of Feucht’s followers to wear masks.
Kevin Nye, who works in homeless services outside Skid Row, began alerting other groups about Feucht’s planned visit on social media in late November. He attended the car rally blockade on Dec. 30.
Nye said Feucht’s ministry is not needed in Skid Row, where there already is a strong religious presence in the community. Advocacy groups, with help from religious leaders, have created hand-washing stations, provided hygiene products and doubled down on promoting mask-wearing in Skid Row.
The night of Feucht’s appearance, protesters, led by Jn-Marie, chanted: “We don’t need revival. Jesus is already here!”
To Nye, it was striking to see the protesters, many who did not appear to represent a religious group, chanting along.
“As a person of faith, that was beautiful to me,” Nye said. “It showed the way that certain aspects of faith can appeal to vast numbers of people, especially in opposition to seeing the faith being co-opted by a group like Sean’s.”
That night, Nye said, Jesus showed up “in the form of a counterprotest.”
“I felt like I was at church,” he said.