(RNS) — The mayor of Spokane, Washington, is fielding criticism for participating in a controversial worship concert over the weekend, with detractors saying she associated herself with a Christian nationalist and neglected to respond to victims of wildfires raging in the region.
The “Let Us Worship” event was hosted by Sean Feucht, a conservative musician and activist who garnered a following during the height of the pandemic for hosting large, in-person concerts across the country to protest restrictions on worship services. During the weekend gathering in Spokane, Feucht was joined onstage by Pastor Matt Shea, a former state lawmaker who was kicked out of the state Republican caucus after an independent investigation found him guilty of domestic terrorism due to his involvement with the armed takeover of Oregon’s Malheur Wildlife Refuge in 2016.
According to footage Sunday (Aug. 20) shared on social media by critical attendee Joseph Peterson, Shea, who oversees On Fire Ministries, welcomed Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward to the stage at some point during the event. After asking people in the crowd to extend their hands, Shea launched into a prayer, asking God to provide a “blessing over the leaders you have chosen for this time” and insisting the Almighty encourage Woodward and other political leaders to “stand on the foundation, the rock of Jesus Christ.”
Shea added: “And no matter what anybody says around them, they will glorify and honor and praise you in every single thing they do.”
Feucht also prayed over Woodward, asking God to offer her and her team “revelatory wisdom and insight on how to steward what you want to do in this region.”
After a third person prayed, insisting the “government sits on (God’s) shoulders,” Woodward exited the stage, embracing both Feucht and Shea as she left.
Woodward’s appearance immediately sparked outcry. Critics questioned her association with Feucht and Shea as well as her decision to attend the gathering amid wildfires that swept through the region over the weekend, killing at least two and damaging dozens of homes.
According to FaVs News, local religious leaders were among those to express outrage at Woodward’s appearance. Among them was Mark Finney, pastor of Emmaus church in Spokane, who declared on Facebook that “when community leaders publicly fraternize with those who espouse hatred, racism, and violence, it validates toxic ideologies and makes them seem ‘normal’ to the watching world.”
Political figures also spoke out: Lisa Brown, a mayoral candidate who is running against Woodward, shared Peterson’s footage on X (formerly known as Twitter) and called on Woodward to disavow Shea, whom she described as “an anti-woman anti-LGBTQ extremist, associated w political violence.” Brown lamented that Woodward was “on the stage with (Shea) while fires rage in our county.”
Woodward eventually issued a statement distancing herself from both Shea and the event, accusing the pastor of choosing to “politicize a gathering of thousands of citizens who joined together yesterday to pray for fire victims and first responders.” She only attended the event, she said, to “join with fellow citizens to begin the healing process” — referring to the wildfires.
But Shea fired back on Monday evening, saying on X that Woodward had agreed to attend the event months before the blazes began and that the gathering “wasn’t for ‘fire victims.’”
“Praying for leaders, especially during a crisis, isn’t political it is Biblical,” Shea wrote. “She is the one that politicized what everyone knows was a worship event.”
Neither Shea nor Woodward’s campaign responded to a request for comment.
Fusing religion and politics has become a constant for events organized by Feucht, a former California congressional candidate. In addition to his Let Us Worship events, Feucht works with the conservative activist group Turning Point USA to host an ongoing “Kingdom to the Capitol Tour,” which features him performing at state capitols across the country — as well as the U.S. Capitol — and praying over lawmakers. He has drawn criticism for partnering with right-wing politicians such as Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, who helped orchestrate his worship service in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda earlier this year, as well as Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who has shown up to at least two of Feucht’s events.
Feucht’s association with Shea may prove even more controversial, given the pastor’s past: Shea was maligned in 2018 after it was revealed he distributed a manifesto titled “Biblical Basis for War” that outlined strategies for a “Holy Army.” Upon learning about the document, then-Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich “gave it straight to the FBI,” according to The Spokesman-Review.
More recently, Shea appeared at a right-wing demonstration in nearby Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, to protest an LGBTQ Pride event. When 31 people were arrested in the back of a U-Haul near him under allegations they were planning to riot, Shea published a video to Facebook insisting they were members of the left-wing group antifa. They weren’t: The men were members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front, and two had connections to Shea’s own church.
Reached by Religion News Service, Feucht said in a statement that Let Us Worship events “routinely have pastors, elected officials, community leaders, along with addicts, the lost, the hurting, and the forgotten on stage praying, praising, and worshiping Jesus.”
“Not all of them agree with each other on every issue, but we all agree that there is only ONE WAY under heaven to be saved, and that’s by the blood of Jesus Christ,” Feucht wrote.
Feucht did not directly respond to Woodward’s criticism that Shea politicized the event or outcry regarding his association with Shea.
Shea is also known for his connection to the American Redoubt, a Christian separatist movement that encourages conservative Christians to move from liberal states to “safe havens” in eastern sections of Oregon and Washington as well as Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Although many local religious leaders such as the local Episcopal bishop have maligned Christian nationalism, a number of vocal supporters of the ideology have in recent years moved to northern Idaho and the surrounding region from states such as California, leading to a surge in Christian nationalist rhetoric.
Feucht appeared to reference the influx during his prayer for Woodward over the weekend.
“We know that people are moving in from all over the world,” Feucht said. “We know that, God, you’re shining the light on this place economically — but we want to see the light of Jesus Christ.”