School board candidate withdraws from race after Christian Nationalist ties exposed
Derrick Peterson's ties to a Christian Nationalist preacher and his anti-abortion ministry sank his candidacy in Portland, Oregon
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Derrick Peterson will not become a board member for the Portland Public Schools in Oregon even if he gets the most votes in an upcoming special election. He’s already vowed to resign if elected (since the ballots have already been printed). But that’s only happening because reporters uncovered his connections to Christian Nationalism—connections he insists don’t represent his actual views… even though he didn’t speak up about them until now.
(UPDATE 5/7: Peterson is sending mixed messages on this matter, telling some people that he WILL serve if elected, despite all the controversy surrounding him.)
Peterson looked like a great candidate on paper. He was a retired chief deputy for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office with decades of service under his belt before losing his bid to become sheriff last year. He had the endorsements of every current school board member, a prominent local Democratic group, other Black politicians, a major newspaper, and a popular alt-weekly. His opponent, Patte Sullivan, appeared to be a more progressive candidate but she didn’t have any political experience and said she jumped into the race mostly to make sure conservatives didn’t ruin the local school district by bringing their culture war battles (against LGBTQ people, against access to books, against the teaching of racism, etc) into public education.
Peterson has other credentials that he does not trumpet. He’s a commissioned “apostle” in the church of a Christian-nationalist preacher who rejects the separation of church and state as a myth “from the pit of hell,” and who traveled to Washington, D.C., to back President Trump on Jan. 6, 2021.
In 2020, Peterson was also named to the board of that church’s anti-abortion activist organization, 1Race4Life, whose members pledge to always “vote pro-life” and to “defend the sacred covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.” (Peterson now disputes this affiliation.)
Peterson is indeed a member of a church connected with the New Apostolic Reformation, a Pentecostal denomination whose members claim to speak in tongues and perform miracles. He admitted he was declared an “apostle” in founder Ché Ahn’s Harvest International Ministry, but he said that was a title of respect and not some formal position in the church. It’s hard to believe, though, that an “apostle” in a church like that would just accept the title without having any knowledge about what the ministry stands for.
Would you accept an honorary award from an institution that openly and proudly opposed abortion rights and marriage equality? Would you advertise that award in the future? Peterson wants people to think he had no knowledge of what the church stood for despite saying during a guest sermon at a different church that he was “officially commissioned” as a “marketplace apostle” (as opposed to an ordained minister).
During that guest sermon, by the way, the actual pastor made these remarks:
The service — held at the height of the George Floyd protests in Portland — closed with the church’s official pastor taking the stage with Peterson and leading a prayer to call on God to “cancel” what the pastor called “the demonic power inspiring those riots.”
Peterson said nothing to oppose that. It’s part of a pattern, apparently.
What about the advisory board of the anti-abortion group 1Race4Life? Peterson also says he wasn’t aware he was on it. The list of board members includes a host of Christian Nationalists, self-proclaimed “prophets,” and other religious zealots like Bill Johnson (of Bethel Church), Samuel Rodriguez, Eric Metaxas, Cindy Jacobs, Jim Garlow, and Lance Wallnau. If you’re in any group that includes those people, you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere in life.
Peterson says he was added to the list without his permission. A list that’s been public for at least three years. When he first learned about the anti-abortion group in 2020, he says, he “excused himself immediately” from the room of the religious conference he was attending—the same one where he was declared an apostle—but somehow he was never made aware that he was an advisor to the group.
Recently, Peterson got his name scrubbed from that list of advisors. The ministry has also deleted the post about him becoming an apostle. At the very least, that suggests he knew damn well who to talk to to get those sites updated.
Speaking with Rolling Stone, Peterson claimed this was all a big misunderstanding:
He hotly contests that he was, in fact, on the board of the anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion 1Race4Life — and that his name and likeness were misappropriated. “I am not affiliated with this group, nor does it reflect my views on marriage equality and reproductive health,” he said in written answers to Rolling Stone’s questions. “My view is that everyone has the right to make their individual personal choice about what they do with their own body. I have also been an active advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.”
Maybe he’s telling the truth about all that and he was seriously that oblivious. The best-case scenario here still doesn’t make him look good. At a time when school boards have become proxy wars to advance political agendas, progressive candidates who have a history of working with bigoted institutions (including churches) need to denounce them immediately. No one, in the Year of Our Lord 2023, should be part of a religious organization without knowing where that church stands on the hot button issues facing our country.
It shouldn’t have taken reporters to uncover facts that had been public for this long. (Kudos to Tim Dickinson and Julia Silverman for carrying the load.) Peterson should have distanced himself from that church and those views the moment he decided to run for office.
He didn’t. And now he’s paying the price for it. Peterson announced this week that he would withdraw from the school board race:
In a statement to [Willamette Week], he wrote: “Over the past week my affiliations with various churches have been presented in the media. This has taken a toll on my family and takes away from the critical work that needs to be done at PPS. I respect our youth too much to allow this distraction to continue.”
The media didn’t create this problem. Peterson did. He’s still not taking responsibility for his own decisions by renouncing the church’s beliefs and demanding they explain why they falsely used his name and likeness to promote their hateful views.
But at least he’s vowing to resign if elected.
One major takeaway from this story is that people can and should be held responsible for the religious views promoted by their churches. If they disagree with those positions—like, say, President Joe Biden supporting abortion rights despite the Catholic Church’s stance—then they need to publicly say that, especially if they’re running for public office. Or they can leave the church entirely.
If you belong to an evangelical megachurch or Southern Baptist institution, then their views are, by default, your views until we hear otherwise. To say you disagree with their positions—while never challenging those positions whenever they bestow a fancy title on you—is too little, too late.
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