By JOHN FORTMEYER
SALEM — While a state panel says it’s time for a statue of an Oregon missionary pioneer to be replaced in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., a local minister says the whole idea is alarming and represents a true threat to the very identity of both the state and nation.
‘So deep is Rev. Aaron Auer’s concern over the issue that he is calling for a major turnout of pastors and Christian leaders to speak against the panel’s recommendations at a 3 p.m. public hearing on March 4. Conducted by the state Statuary Hall Study Commission, it will be in Hearing Room B of the Oregon State Ca-pitol.
Auer says there seems to be a steady effort today by state leaders to see reminders of Oregon’s Christian roots — such as the Bible held in Lee’s hand in the statue — removed from public settings. He and some other evangelical Christians believe taking it out of the U.S. Capitol would denigate the state’s spiritual roots by drawing attention away from Oregon’s Christian heritage.
“How the pastors and churches respond to this real emergency will determine whether our sure foundation of Jesus Christ remains in its rightful place, or the state instead in ruins,” said Auer, who heads up ROAR (Reviving Oregon’s Amazing Roots) Ministries. “I’m calling all ministers to meet and testify and demand Oregon’s heritage be preserved in our nation. This is not just our Christian roots in jeopardy, it is the state’s roots. This is our identity.”
“What the legislators couldn’t do, the governor has done by an end-around to bring one more nail in the coffin of Christian culture and memorials,” wrote Vaughn Longanecker of Aloha, director of Christian Heritage of the Northwest Ministries, in a letter published in this issue of Christian News Northwest.
The Statuary Hall Study Commission in late January recommended the statues of Lee and pre-statehood leader John McLoughlin be replaced with new historic figures.
The panel further recommended that four individuals be considered for the two available depictions in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall: Native American leader Chief Joseph, suffragist and women’s rights activist Abigail Scott Duniway, former Gov. Tom McCall and former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield.
It was one state legislator’s unsuccessful effort in recent years to see Hatfield’s image replace Lee in Statuary Hall that eventually prompted then-Gov. John Kitzhaber last year to appoint the study panel.
In a recent letter to Kitzhaber, who has since resigned and been replaced last month by new Gov. Kate Brown, that commission chairman Jerry Hudson outlined the recommendations.
Hudson said the panel wants the statues of Lee and McLoughlin, which have been in the U.S. Capitol for 61 years, to be returned to unspecified “places of honor” in Oregon and that “two equally worthy individuals who represent different chaptes in Oregon’s history” be installed at the Capitol.
At the hearing, the panel will invite public testimony and will hear a presentation from the Oregon Historical Society on the four finalists. The commission also invites all Oregonians to share their opinions via the society website, www.obs.org.
The commission consists of nine voting members — five appointed by the governor, two appointed by Senate President Peter Courtney, and two appointed by Speaker of the House Tina Kotek. Kerry Tymchuk, director of the society, also serves in an advisory, non-voting role.
Before making its recommendations, the commission held public hearings statewide and solicited additional comment from schoolchildren and historical societies statewide. But Auer claims that turnout at the hearings was very low and, for that reason, the panel’s decisions do not reflect true public sentiment, he said.
The National Statuary Hall collection includes 100 statues contributed by the 50 states. Legislation enacted by Congress in 2000 provides procedures for states to reclaim and replace statues, and seven states have done so.
Auer was the Constitution Party candidate for governor last year, In his presentations as director of ROAR Ministries, he often portrays Lee in costume. For more information, contact him at 503-705-7627 or roaroregon.org