Only in Salem is the public library on the wrong side of LGBTQ rights. As retired State Librarian Jim Scheppke noted recently, historically libraries in Oregon have stood up for LGBTQ rights.
But in our city the library is going to be temporarily located in a building leased from an organization that denies fundamental gay rights -- the right to marry, and the right to engage in same-sex sex.
A headline in a Willamette Week story about this issue summed up the situation nicely.
If an anti-gay organization was a business or corporation, the bigotry of those in charge would be roundly condemned by almost everybody. However, since the Salem Alliance Church is, obviously, a religious entity, its bigotry can be excused by apologists under the cover of "religious liberty."
Which doesn't make the church's rejection of LGBTQ rights any more acceptable. That's why so many people were critical of City officials choosing the church-owned Capital Press building for a temporary library, an unnecessary choice given the availability of other suitable locations.
I was bothered so much by how City of Salem staff ignored the legitimate concerns of the LGBTQ community that I paid $844.85 for public records related to the selection of a temporary library site. My previous posts based on those records are here and here.
Most of the written testimony from citizens in opposition to the choice of the church-owned building wasn't part of the 1,245 pages of documents that I got, since it was included in a staff report to the City Council. Here's some testimony that was part of the public records.
My name is ______ and am a 29 year resident of South Salem. I am appalled at the prospect of my tax dollars going to the Salem Alliance Church to rent a facility for our library relocation. I completely agree wit our city's Human Rights Commission that this would send a message that glbt people aren't welcome.
That church condemns same sex marriage and civil rights for glbt folks. Their discriminatory hiring practices at Broadway Coffeehouse are a prime example of their values, which violate the spirit of inclusion which defines our city and its laws.
Frankly, as a gay man, I would feel unsafe in any facility owned by Salem Alliance Church.
I am respectfully writing to ask you to please consider renting library locations other than the one available from the Salem Alliance Church. I believe in freedom of religion and freedom of speech, but object when that speech is used to condemn me, my family, and LGBTQ friends.
All citizens of Salem should feel free to use the public library without feeling strange about walking into a building whose owners have so publically denounced them.
This was an email to Councilor Leung, who voted against leasing the church-owned building.
I understand that you voted NO on the use of the Salem Alliance Church's building for the temporary Library. Is there any way this can be stopped. I am in Ward 1, and Cara Kaser voted for it. I find this decision very repugnant and insulting to LGBTQ people and their family and loved ones. I cannot use the Library if it is going to be in the Salem Alliance's building. I resent my tax dollars going to this anti-gay church.
Given how controversial the possibility of leasing the church's Capital Press building for a temporary library was, it isn't surprising that church officials reached out to City officials in attempts to calm the waters roiled up by the church's anti-LGBTQ stance.
No other organization that owned a building being considered as a temporary library location lobbied City officials in writing. Just the Salem Alliance Church. (Phone calls and text messages aren't included in a public records request.)
Executive Pastor Robb Childs emailed City Manager Steve Powers on July 10, 2019, saying in part:
Download Robb Childs email
Steve Fowler, Salem Alliance's Lead Pastor, and I appreciate that you reached out and left a message for Steve in response to some negative buzz circulating in parts of the community related to the City's exploration of a lease with Salem Alliance to temporarily house the Salem Public Library in the former Capital Press building.
Hmmmm. The top official at the City of Salem, Steve Powers, left an apparently supportive message with the Lead Pastor of the Salem Alliance Church shortly before the City Council was to decide whether to enter into a lease agreement with the church. That seems wrong to me.
Also, on July 9, 2019 the Director of Operations for the Salem Alliance Church, Tim France, sent an email to Mayor Chuck Bennett and Councilor Cara Kaser that started off with an invitation to get together.
Download Tim France email
Hi Chuck and Kara [sic], I wanted to see if the two of you have time to meet with Steve Fowler (our Lead Pastor) and myself for 30 minutes. I realize we can't talk about the potential lease for the library move... we just want to clear the air with the rumors going around regarding Salem Alliance.
Ah, "clear the air." Which fits with the "negative buzz" comment from Pastor Robb Childs.
It's astounding that City officials put themselves in the spot of needing to hear self-serving spin from representatives of an organization that denies fundamental LGBTQ rights, especially since the City's own Human Rights Commission had voted unanimously to urge that another location other than the church-owned building be selected as a temporary library, even if that alternative cost more and wasn't as operationally efficient.
Here's part of an email that was sent to a member of the Human Rights Commission on the subject of whether the Salem Alliance Church discriminates against LGBTQ people. Of course, there's zero doubt that the church rejects same-sex marriage and considers same-sex marriage to be a sin, because the Lead Pastor has said as much in a recorded talk.
The email, though, focuses on the hiring practices at the Broadway Commons/Coffeehouse, which is owned and operated by the Salem Alliance Church. The blog post mentioned in the first paragraph can be read here.
The most definitive evidence of discrimination is the blog post by the KATU reporter that is linked on Brian's blog. The reporter directly asked church leadership if they would hire someone that was openly LGBTQ. Church leaders refused to answer this question.
I asked them the same thing and they refused to answer (please see their response below). The church has said that employees are expected to be followers of Christ, which in their interpretation excludes members of the LGBTQ community.
They also claim that they have never discriminated, but this simply means that no openly gay individuals have ever applied for a job, so they haven't had the opportunity to discriminate. This is a "don't ask, don't tell" policy, and it is inherently discriminatory.
Anyone that questions whether or not Salem Alliance discriminates should call or email church leadership (https://www.salemalliance.org/about-us/leadership/) and ask them if they would hire an openly gay applicant. Church leaders will either refuse to answer the question, or they will dance around and not answer directly.
Included in the person's message to the Human Rights Commission member was this example of how the Salem Alliance Church dances around their anti-LGBTQ stance. Basically, Pastor Childs spouts a lot of verbiage that says next to nothing.
Someday, maybe, perhaps, the church might choose to separate its rejection of LGBTQ rights from how it staffs the Broadway Commons. For now, as noted above, the church has a "don't ask, don't tell" approach that is far removed from a genuine acceptance of LGBTQ people.
Robb Childs, the Executive Pastor, wrote:
Let me say, first, that we share a similar set of questions with you about how closely aligned theologically the business operations at Broadway Commons should be with those of Salem Alliance Church.
...We have had several conversations at leadership levels and continue to discuss where we do or don't expect there to be alignment by our staff at Broadway Commons with the theological beliefs of Salem Alliance Church. We have not landed on a decision yet, but we are committed to keeping at the conversations until we do reach a new consensus.
Steve and I anticipate that we will ultimately land in a place that requires less theological alignment for our staff at Broadway Commons.
While it is true that Salem Alliance holds to the biblical standard that sexual relations are reserved for marriage between one man and one woman, and we regularly call our church family to live out that biblical standard in their lives, it is also true that we actively seek to be people who respect and welcome everyone on our campus, even those with whom we may not agree for whatever reason.
In fact, LGBT individuals/groups are regular clients at Broadway Commons and, to our knowledge, have never felt shamed or discriminated by our staff there.
Even though Broadway Commons is owned and operated by Salem Alliance, we have not chosen to use it as a religious platform. We have not discriminated on the grounds of sexual orientation during our hiring process at Broadway Commons, nor have we ever taken action against a Broadway Commons employee based on those grounds.
Salem Alliance Church
Here's my take on the absurd claim that because LGBTQ people are "regular clients at Broadway Commons," this shows that the church isn't anti-gay.
I have no doubt that Hobby Lobby, the crafts store chain owned by a fundamentalist Christian family, welcomes anyone with a credit or debit card, or cash in hand. However, Hobby Lobby's policies are highly controversial, being at odds with the values of most Americans, and many people refuse to shop there for that reason.
Officials at the City of Salem never grasped that supporters of LGBTQ rights feel the same way about using a public library that is housed in space leased from an organization that rejects those rights. It isn't a question of whether the temporary library will welcome LGBTQ people.
What matters is that for 18-24 months the public library will be in a building owned by a church that denies the humanity of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning people.