By JOHN FORTMEYER
SALEM — Those concerned Christians who still hope an Oregon pioneer missionary can remain a symbol of the state in the nation’s capital now have only one option left — persuade the state’s legislators.
And time is running out. Anticipating recommendations from a special study commission appointed by the governor last year, state lawmakers have al-ready drafted legislation authorizing two new statues to be placed in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol.
Despite opposition voiced in public hearings by Christians who fear the state’s spiritual heritage is being rapidly diminished, the Statuary Hall Study Commission in late January recommended the statues of missionary Jason Lee and pre-statehood leader John McLoughlin be replaced with new historic figures.
Then on March 4 the panel decided the new ones should depict Abigail Scott Duniway, a women’s rights advocate, newspaper editor and writer; and Chief Joseph, leader of the Nez Perce Native American tribe. Also considered but ultimately not chosen were Mark Hatfield, longtime U.S. senator and former governor; and Tom McCall, another former governor.
At a March 4 final hearing for the commission at Willamette University, panel chair Jerry Hudson, former president of the university, said “a thoughtful process” in recent months had led to the decision. He said changing the statues in Washington, D.C., does not diminish the huge role Lee and McLoughlin had in Oregon, but that it is time to recognize others who have been equally influential.
“Much more Oregon history has been written,” Hudson said.
Even though the commission said its recommendation to remove the Lee statue was already firm, several Christians continued March 4 to speak against the idea.
Vaughn Longanecker of Aloha-based Christian Heritage of the Northwest Ministries said Lee is unique in the annals of not only Oregon’s past, but also history beyond the region.
“No other person in history, that I know of, matches Lee,” he said.
Aaron and Kim Auer of ROAR (Restoring Oregon’s Amazing Roots) Ministries offered brief, fervent pleas to keep the Lee statue.
“We stand here in sackcloth and ashes today,” said Aaron Auer, a minister who often portrays Lee in costume in historical presentations. He said they and others are grieved by the commission’s plan, which if enacted would mean the Bible shown in the statue no longer would play a part in representing Oregon.
Citing Proverbs 23:9, Kim Auer said commission members would show through their actions if they were wise or foolish. “To-day, you can determine if you are a fool or not a fool,” she said.
The commission offered no response.
Hudson said the panel believes the Lee and McLoughlin statues should be returned “to places of honor” in the state, but that it should be left up to the Oregon Heritage Commis-sion — part of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department — to determine a process for taking applications from sites interested in the two statues.
In an e-mail afterward, Longanecker expressed hope the Legislature might yet disregard the panel’s recommendations. He said those who support keeping the Lee statue in D.C. should write the House Committee on Rules, which will review House Bill 2515, the proposed legislation regarding the statues.