By JOHN FORTMEYER, CNNW publisher
SALEM — To be accurate, it’s the sixth time in seven years, although some counting might be tempted to term it the “umpteenth” time — a word that conveys annoyance that it keeps happening.
And indeed some Christians are not just annoyed, but deeply concerned, over yet another renewed effort to remove what they see as a critical symbol of Oregon’s Christian heritage.
During the current state legislative session, Senate Bill 446, sponsored by Sen. Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay), calls for the statues of Oregon missionary pioneer Rev. Jason Lee and fur trade officer and physician Dr. John McLoughlin to be replaced in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C., with depictions of historic Native American leader Chief Joseph and women’s rights advocate Abigail Scott Duniway.
The statues of Lee and McLoughlin have been in the D.C. hall since 1953 along with 98 other statues representing the other 49 states. Each state is allowed two statues. It’s the repeated attempts to take away the Lee statue that trouble Christians who have stood against the idea every time it has come up. They adamantly believe any such move would denigrate the state’s spiritual roots by drawing attention away from Oregon’s Christian past. Lee founded the city of Salem and Willamette University and organized the first provisional government in the Oregon Country.
“Rev. Jason Lee is the most influential person in history for the whole of the western United States, especially for the Northwest,” writes Aloha resident Vaughn Longanecker in a letter to the editor in the current issue of Christian News Northwest. He says removal of the Lee statue would do a great disservice to the people of Oregon, in that it would “stop the testimony he is to our nation and the world.”
Aaron Auer of Salem-based ROAR (Restoring Oregon’s Amazing Roots) Ministries has often portrayed Lee in history presentations and shares Longanecker’s perspective. Auer said calling attention to the state’s Christian roots is one of the big reasons he has run for governor three times as the nominee of the Constitution Party. Auer says prayers thus far have been answered, in that past legislative proposals to change the statues have eventually died in Salem. But he said there must be a greater outcry by Christians against the idea, or it is very likely going to happen eventually.
“What more can I do?” Auer asked. “We need people to stand up together more than we have.” He said those who want to assist should contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Longanecker asks that those concerned contact their local state legislators as well as those on the Senate Rules Committee and urge them to vote no on the legislation. The bill is summarized at https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2019R1/Measures/Overview/SB446
As originally proposed by then-state Rep. Vic Gilliam (R-Silverton) and later promoted by state Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem), the proposal called for a depiction of the late Mark Hatfield, former governor and longtime U.S. senator, to replace one of the current statues. But a special state commission in 2015 recommended to the Legislature that Chief Joseph and Duniway replace Lee and McLoughlin.