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CastroLangs give witness at Spokane City Council

Usually Spokane City Council Monday meetings are sparsely attended, except for “a grumpy old white man who usually comes to reprimand the Council for its wasteful, corrupt actions,” said Jim CastroLang, pastor of Colville First Congregational UCC who lives in Spokane.

Andy CastroLang testifies at Spokane City Council.

One recent Monday evening, the chambers were overflowing from 6 to 9:15 p.m.

The City Council was considering an ordinance to strengthen the noise provisions in the law and give more clarity so police know when the decibels are too high, so they can stop it.  It permits police to carry decibel meters so they can measure levels and know when they exceed that the ordinance permits. The ordinance, which passed, also still allows organizations like Planned Parenthood to challenge such groups in civil suits.

Both Andy CastroLang, pastor of Westminster Congregational UCC in Spokane, and Jim were there wearing their clerical collars, hugging friends and allies—about a third of the crowd.  They were there to stand for justice.  Andy was the only pastor who spoke in support of the ordinance.

“Part of the crowd used the name of Jesus and the Bible as a law book.  They stood ready to condemn, certain they had listened to God and were God’s warriors ready to do battle,” said Jim.

“They had no need to listen to our stories or arguments.  They had no need to know us at all.  They were there for their God.  They were right, and were sure we were evil,” he said.

They were there from what they call the “Church at Planned Parenthood,” which holds “worship services” regularly outside Spokane’s Planned Parenthood facility.

They blast messages of judgment and condemnation with concert-like speakers, so patients and medical staff in exam rooms hear them clearly. 

“They sing songs of praise to their God, who condemns right along with them.  It is cruel and heartbreaking. These are ‘true believers’ who have no need to listen to any perspective but their own,” Andy said.

Andy went for two reasons: 1) to make sure patients can access Planned Parenthood health care services without bullying or harassment, and 2) to stand as witness that not all Christians are “vicious, manipulative, spiteful and judgmental.”

Jim described about two-thirds of the crowd as “hostile white male Christian leaders.”

“As they stood up, they denounced, yelled at and harangued the community leaders, calling them despicable names,” said Andy. “We were deeply offended for our City Council members.” 

Jim said some women, caught up in the male rage were doing this as well. 

“We wanted to run from this rage because it was like a poison to our bodies, tempted us with anger in our hearts, and brought harsh thoughts into our heads,” said Jim. 

Some of the people were not from the city or state. 

“We wonder if our city council might find that they should limit the ‘open forum’ to residents of our city and county,” she said, wondering why Trump hats some wore were allowed in city council.

We were appalled at the lack of civility and courtesy among the crowd of angry men, and women who followed their lead,” said Andy. “Council president Breean Beggs, who was tolerant and civil, was reviled by them. 

“We acknowledge there was anger and dismay voiced towards these ‘Christian’ speakers from our side of the issue,” she said, “but the negative energy and intensity from the ‘other side’ was overwhelming.  When we got home, we felt we had run a full marathon, being punched every step of the way.”

Jim and Andy recognize this could have been about any hot button issue that has divided society in this generation. 

“It seems like these Christians on the far right are in a different religion from those of us in the United Church of Christ,” they said. 
“They describe a God we don’t recognize.”

In the open forum at City Hall, people said they were defending their first amendment right to freedom of speech.  The CastroLangs felt it was pushing the boundaries of “human speech,” sliding rapidly into “bullying speech” and “ignorant, hate-filled speech.”

Jim and Andy felt the talk was meant to intimidate and silence others.  For those with memories of being bullied, the fear this rhetoric brings up is real, they said. 

As a woman, Andy said she has experienced this more than Jim.  She has memories of being bullied, harassed and mocked, whether as a girl child on the playground or as a woman in the work force. 

That evening, a man looked Jim in the face and said, “You should be ashamed, take off that collar, you disgust me.” 

At that moment and in that setting, Jim struggled with what it would mean and what it would look like to “love your enemies.”

“It was hard to be in that environment with people locking us out and not listening, so we did not know how to respond, he said

“This is what we do in the UCC.  We stand for justice.  We stand with allies,” he said.  “We work our hearts out for a more loving and just world.  The measure passed and we prevailed.”

That night and online later, many thanked Jim and Andy for their courage. 

“Andy spoke to the Council that night and it showed our allies what we mean as we follow Jesus in the United Church of Christ,” Jim said.  “In the face of harassment, friends, colleagues, supportive strangers all need to join together and stand together. 

“This is what we do.  Does it take courage?  We suppose it does, but in the UCC, this is what we believe we are called to do.  This is us,” Jim and Andy said.

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Copyright © March 2020 - Pacific NW United Church News



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