Sign gets evangelistic outreach permanently banned from taking part in Ashland parade
ASHLAND — A local Christian outreach is now banned from taking part in an annual parade in this Southern Oregon city because a sign they carried not only offended some spectators but was deemed by some as hateful.
But a spokesman for the group insists the sign they carried in the Festival of Light parade on Black Friday, Nov. 23, communicated the absolute opposite of hatefulness.
As reported by the Daily Tidings newspaper of Ashland, the Ashland Chamber of Commerce will not allow the locally based group Marching for Jesus future participation in the parade. Sandra Slattery, executive director of the chamber, told the newspaper that the sign clearly violated parade rules and that parade organizers were “incredibly disappointed” that it be-came part of the event.
Those rules state: “An entry may not include any image or content that includes … hate, racism, or that is vulgar or sexually explicit, insulting or offensive to any ethnic, religious, political or other identifiable group or individual, or any protest, ridicule, or negative statement directed at any other person, organization, religion, belief, nationality, ethnic group, sexual orientation, policy, program, or political or cultural identity as determined by a parade official.”
The reference to “sexual orientation” is the focus of the controversy. Taking part in the Marching for Jesus parade entry, a Southern Oregon-based evangelistic outreach called the RV (Rogue Valley) Saltshakers carried a sign that stated:
“Our lies, hate, theft, greed, lust, porn, fornication, LGBTQ, abortion and all other sin earn death and hell. Trust Jesus! Be Saved!”
The newspaper reported that many people were offended, and some said they had to explain the sign to their children who were watching the event.
Slattery charged that the evangelistic group put the sign in the parade fully knowing that parade officials would never have allowed it. She said the content of the sign escaped notice of the officials because the RV Saltshakers did not have the signs visible as they walked past before the parade.
Jon Clement of Grants Pass, an RV Saltshakers organizer, said there was no intent to conceal any of the group’s signs ahead of the parade. He said the signs were on the ground as they were assembled, but that they were held up for anyone to see once completed.
Clement said his group’s intention was simply to share the Gospel, and not to in any way communicate hate; he pointed out that hate is actually listed as a sin on the sign. He told the Ashland paperhe can see how someone might connect “hate” and “LGBTQ” since both are on the sign, and thus jump to the conclusion that the sign carriers hate homosexuals. But Clement was quick to add that the Bible forbids Christians to hate anyone, and that if they do, they aren’t really followers of Christ.
Despite the negative reactions from some, Clement said in a later interview with Christian News Northwest that “I think it’s a great sign, because it really gets people to talking.”
Clement said his group, which also evangelizes at other events throughout Oregon, is not inclined to pursue any appeals process with the Ashland parade organizers, nor will it investigate whether it has any legal basis to oppose their decision. Rather than have a formal parade entry, he said, his group would be more likely just share its message on the sidelines with parade spectators in the future.
In a later editorial, the Ashland newspaper agreed — somewhat — with Clement’s contention that the sign was not motivated by hate. “Was that hate speech? Not exactly,” the editorial stated. “One of the Saltshakers group said, ‘I wrote it and don’t hate anyone,’ so it couldn’t be called hateful. Except that anyone who happens to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered might justifiably feel attacked by the suggestion that they are domed to hell simply for existing.”
And since the parade rules expressly forbid any message that is insulting or offensive to any identifiable group or individual, the Ashland Chamber was right to ban Marching for Jesus from future parades, the editorial concluded.
Scott Spalding of Ashland, spokesman for Marching for Jesus, said he as an individual had done parade evangelism since 1983, but that Marching for Jesus began in 2010 with two Medford-area events; Since then it also has expanded throughout the state and utilizes signs, banners, gospel tracts and amplified music. Spalding said that while several churches pray frequently for their efforts, only one small church has been fully supportive.
“Our two parade goals are, first, to do everything possible to get people — of all types and categories — into Heaven eventually, and secondly, to encourage all potential Christian individuals, churches and parachurch organizations, through example, to start their own parade ministries,” Spalding said.
Peter Thorniley of Talent, another member of Marching for Jesus, said the Ashland Chamber of Commerce is enforcing its parade rules inconsistently. He said there were political signs carried at the Chamber-sponsored Fourth of July parade last year that he considered slanderous toward conservatives.
“If they are concerned about hate speech, well, I would take exception to that as well,” Thorniley said.
He added that the Marching for Jesus group is definitely seeing increased hostility toward its message. “We’ve become appalled at how much rejection of the Lord there has been in recent years,” he said.
Spalding said because most of the cities in which his group march now contain significant Hispanic population, every effort is made to make the signs, banners, music and literature bilingual in both English and Spanish. The group also seeks to have its participants represent as many racial backgrounds as possible, so as to reflect God’s love for all people.
Another project of Spalding’s since 2013 are free displays of Christian literature inside retail businesses in his part of Oregon. This includes the Medford-based Christian Journal newspaper as well as Christian News Northwest, which Spalding himself pays to have shipped down from the Portland area.
However, Spalding has been frustrated by countless incidences of vandalsim against the literature racks, and the only apparent solution — hiring a surveillance agency — would be too costly, he said.
For more information on the parade outreach or on ways to support it, contact Spalding at ScottSpalding860@gmail.com or Thorniley at 541-821-1074. Contact Spalding as well for more information on assisting the literature outreach.