HELENA — Some Democratic lawmakers are criticizing the plan for a controversial pastor to deliver a sermon at the state Capitol Sunday, while Republicans participating in the sermon defended his inclusion as a matter of free speech.
The Rev. Matt Trewhella co-founded Wisconsin-based Missionaries to the Preborn in 1990, and will deliver the Election Sermon at the Capitol Rotunda at 2 p.m. Sunday and give a talk at the Lewis and Clark Library at 3:30 p.m. Monday. Both are sponsored by Project Liberty Tree under the Covenant Community Church in Whitehall.
Trewhella is pastor at Mercy Seat Christian Church in Milwaukee.
Missionaries to the Preborn gained notoriety for arrests while picketing abortion clinics with signs depicting alleged aborted fetuses, according to a Montana Human Rights Network profile of Trewhella. He has been an outspoken opponent of abortion and gay marriage, and proponent of church-based militias, the profile said.
“(Trewhella and his associates) have aligned themselves with the militia movement and most violent fringe of anti-choice activists,” the profile said.
Sen. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, expressed his general philosophical concerns about a religious ceremony in the Capitol before focusing on Trewhella.
“I don’t know that he’ll talk about his views on gay marriage but they’re abominable,” he said. “It just seems to me totally inappropriate, offensive to many legislators and blatantly political.”
Barrett sent emails to House and Senate leaders opposing the religious ceremony and Trewhella in an effort to “prevent it from happening again.”
Trewhella expresses an extreme religious and political view that hinges on a belief that if God’s teachings do not mesh with federal law, people are not obligated to follow the law, Barrett said.
In 1993, Trewhella signed a declaration stating that Michael Griffin had committed "justifiable homicide" in the murder of Florida abortion doctor, according to a 1994 Newsweek article. Trewhella said he removed his name from the declaration, the article said, although Newsweek challenged whether he truly advocated against violence.
In 1998, Toronto’s NOW magazine quoted Trewhella as saying, “I don’t condemn people who use force to try to protect babies, because they are human beings.”
Trewhella has also taken a strong stand against homosexuality and gay marriage, condemning in his TV show “In Focus” heterosexual parents who do not protect their children from homosexuals.
“I have no respect for people who are parents, who actually have children, and have no problem with homosexuality or homosexual marriage,” he said in one of his shows posted on YouTube. “They are the most base people on the planet to have totally abandoned every God-given vestige to protect your child from the filth of homosexuality, to blatantly go along with it is disgusting.”
Sen. Christine Kauffman, D-Helena, said she shared concerns about Trewhella’s message, but said she was not familiar with specifics about him. She expressed her faith in information provided by the Montana Human Rights Network, her former employer.
Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, will co-host the sermon, although she said she was not familiar with Trewhella’s politics. As long as he did not advocate violence, she said, he has a right to express his views, especially in a public building.
“This is a matter of free speech to me, and what better place to exercise that right than in the Capitol,” she said. “That’s one of the things that is great about being an American and living in this country.”
Rep. Wendy McKamey, R-Great Falls, will also participate in the sermon. When told of the criticism of Trewhella on Friday, she initially said she may have to reconsider if her presence would be used to promote views she does not agree with.
McKamey called back Saturday to say she had decided to participate, which will include remarks and a musical program. She has gay friends whom she supports, but echoed Fielder in supporting free speech.
McKamey planned to bring a message of praise and asking for the grace of God upon everyone in attendance, she said.
Barrett said he agreed with Trewhella’s right to free speech but reiterated his opposition to a religious sermon in the state Capitol.
Church of the Covenant elder Steve Wagner said he was not surprised by the opposition to Trewhella. The sermon would focus on Trewhella’s book “The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate” and not on abortion or homosexuality, he said.
“I understand people’s anxiousness about Matt with his other activities, but we’re an independent body and have our differences with just about anyone,” Wagner said.
The Election Sermons date back to the 1600s, and Project Liberty Tree is an effort to recognize God’s law within civil law, he said. Both Democrats and Republicans have habitually violated those principles, he said.
Democrats, Republicans and the public are welcome to attend and share in the discussion, Wagner said.
“The connections between biblical principles in our form of government are undeniable by anyone that honestly looks at it,” he said. “We’re not interested in turning the clock back, but we’ve neglected that part of our history.”
Attempts to reach the library director for comment where not successful.