On Friday, a prayer breakfast is being held in Vancouver, Washington, at which the Family Research Council’s Jerry Boykin is scheduled to be the keynote speaker.
Apparently organizers of the event were unfamiliar with Boykin’s long history of anti-Muslim statements and right-wing radicalism until local Muslims brought it to their attention, at which point sponsors and other speakers began to distance themselves from Boykin and the event.
The local YMCA, which was a key sponsor and organizer, has now issued a statement announcing that it does not support Boykin’s participation and the mayor has announced that he will not stick around to hear Boykin’s remarks and will speak out against him when he delivers his own remarks at the breakfast while local officials have voiced their shock that organizers whould choose someone like Boykin for the event:
A planning committee on Tuesday voted to retain a controversial former Pentagon official and Christian conservative as keynote speaker for Friday’s Clark County Mayors’ & Civil Leaders’ Prayer Breakfast.
But the Clark County Family YMCA, one of the event’s sponsors, voted against keeping former Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin as keynote speaker, according to Roger Button, a YMCA chaplain and a member of the committee.
The truth is that the organizing committee knew little about Boykin at first, Button said, other than that he was a “great keynote speaker” who’d done a “wonderful job” at the national convention of the Full Gospel Men’s Fellowship in America. A local chapter of the Full Gospel Men’s Fellowship is the event planning partner who suggested bringing Boykin to Clark County for this 13th annual local prayer breakfast, set for 7 a.m. Friday at the Hilton Vancouver Washington.
“We were looking to honor our military veterans and first responders and he sounded like a good fit,” Button said. “We really didn’t look into it.”
Button said the Y has now decided that Boykin is too divisive. In a statement, the Y said:
“The purpose of the mayor’s prayer breakfast is to pray for, encourage and uplift our civic leaders, first responders and those that serve and protect our community. It is meant to be an uplifting event, one in which we call on the risen Christ to bless our leaders. Originally we had asked our keynote to speak based on his Christian testimony. In recent days statements made by the speaker have come to our attention that detract from the purpose and mission of the prayer breakfast. Therefore the YMCA does not support bringing this speaker to the Clark County Mayors’ & Civic Leaders’ Prayer Breakfast.”
On Monday, [Vancouver Mayor Timothy] Leavitt told The Columbian he had not been familiar with Boykin, but he was finding “intolerance” in the retired lieutenant general’s public statements. He said he had not planned to stick around for Boykin’s speech, but now is considering speaking out more forcefully during his own preliminary remarks. He also said he’d reached out to a member of the prayer breakfast planning committee to ask how Boykin was chosen and “if the committee knew that this individual was as controversial as he is.”
…City Councilman Jack Burkman said he’s been growing uncomfortable with the event for years, and had already planned to skip this year. The selection of Boykin only reinforced his decision, he said.
“I’ve gone to some of these in the past,” he said, “but I’ve had increasing concerns with government’s active participation in very strong faith-based activities. I think it raises a lot of questions.”
It’s a strongly Christian event, he said, “and that’s great.” But, politicians attending a prayer breakfast as politicians isn’t too different from politicians attending church as politicians, he said. “In many ways (the prayer breakfast is) a service. A church service. That’s what I’m not comfortable with. Elected officials don’t go to church and say, ‘I’m here as a council member.’ ”
He wasn’t familiar with Boykin, he said, until he read Tuesday’s Columbian. Then he started looking on the Internet.
“Wow, how did they make that decision?” he marveled. “It’s not new information. Boykin has been getting a lot of negative publicity for quite some time. This is a clear signal to me not to attend this event.”
Mayor Scott Higgins of Camas, who is also a pastor, said he is used to attending meetings and events where he doesn’t agree with many things he hears. He still plans to go, he said, but that doesn’t mean he endorses the speaker.
Vancouver city Councilor Alishia Topper posted on Facebook: “I’m in New York this Friday, but if I were home I would not attend this year’s prayer breakfast because of the keynote speaker. I do not support hate and am shocked the event organizers chose such a polarizing guest speaker. Organizers should reconsider their invitation and event sponsors should think about how sponsoring this event will make their business look.”
UPDATE: After initially saying that he would honor his committment to speak at the event but leave before Boykin spoke, Mayor Tim Leavitt has now issued a statement announcing that he is boycotting the prayer breakfast entirely due to Boykin’s radical views and bigotry:
Today, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt announced he would boycott the 2014 Clark County Mayor and Civic Leaders Prayer Breakfast, scheduled for 7 a.m. Friday, Oct. 17 at the Hilton.
“The purpose of the prayer breakfast is to bring together people of many different faiths and religions to pray for, honor and encourage military personnel, public safety first responders, civic leaders and others who serve our community – and that is an effort that I do support,” said Leavitt. “In fact, the vision of the breakfast is ‘Inspiring Clark County residents to honor, encourage and support each other.’ But, it is apparent to me that the values and beliefs of the keynote speaker are not consistent with the original vision of this event. In fact, I’m certain that Lt. General Boykin’s position on a number of social, political and religious issues does not at all reflect the values of acceptance, tolerance and compassion our community strives for.”
When information about this year’s speaker, retired Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin, began circulating earlier this week, Leavitt said that he intended to honor his commitment to host the event, but did not intend to stay for the presentation. However, after personally researching and reviewing Boykin’s previous public statements, Leavitt strengthened his stance.
“I respect and commend the lieutenant general for his service to our country,” said Leavitt. “However, I can’t condone extremist values through my attendance and participation at the breakfast. Vancouver prides itself on being a welcoming community for all faiths, cultures and belief systems. Frankly, I’m stunned that the event planning committee, when given the option to correct a poor decision, chose to keep the invitation to Boykin. I encourage others, including the event sponsors, to carefully consider their attendance and support.”