Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Shawn Vestal: Shea’s blessing a political curse for the mayor who joined him onstage

This image, shared on X, formerly know as Twitter, shows Mayor Nadine Woodward stand next to former state Rep. Matt Shea during a prayer service.  (Courtesy)

Just how politically radioactive is Matt Shea these days?

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward is about to find out.

Shea – the former state rep, Bundyville radical and far-right pastor whose own party booted him from its legislative caucus after he was declared a “domestic terrorist” for his actions in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation – has long been a bellwether for far-right radicalism in our region.

From the Liberty State to the Church at Planned Parenthood to training boys for “biblical warfare” to COVID conspiracies to Stop the Steal rallies, if it’s hateful and nutty, Shea’s in the mix.

Mainstream conservatives tend to distance themselves from him as a result, especially if they happen to be trying to appeal to voters.

Woodward recognized this in 2019, after revelations that Shea had authored a manifesto outlining how Christian warriors should take over the country and participated in chats about targeting political enemies with surveillance and “psy-ops.”

Woodward, then a candidate for mayor, vigorously denounced Shea’s “divisive and extreme rhetoric and ideology” in a statement, concluding: “I call on his constituents to make their decision about what values they want represented in Olympia.”

Sunday night, Woodward completely lost her condemnatory spirit toward Shea.

(Spoiler alert: She regained it the moment it became politically useful again.)

Woodward joined Shea onstage as he delivered a prayer on her behalf at an event hosted by a Trumpy Christian nationalist pastor who is routinely denounced for his anti-LGBTQ rhetoric – and who prayed for a metaphorical “fire that would consume Spokane” even as the air from real fires was clouding the town.

Woodward stood onstage with a few others, including City Council Candidate Earl Moore, eyes closed and intermittently smiling, as Shea, hand on her shoulder, prayed that God would give her and other leaders “supernatural love” and “supernatural discernment.”

“Lord, encourage them, give them courage, your courage, to stand on the foundation, the rock, of Jesus Christ,” Shea said. “Give them, right now, unwavering ability to speak the truth into the darkness, and no matter what anyone says around them, they will glory and honor and praise you in every single thing they do.”

The headlining pastor, Sean Feucht, also prayed for Woodward, as did a third man. Woodward hugged Shea as she left the stage.

Videos of this event began to fly around social media Sunday night, thanks to posts on X, formerly known as Twitter, from Joseph Peterson, a former pastor who now runs a design studio and hosts a podcast on the journey of faith with his wife, “The Ruins.”

Even those who are no fans of the mayor seemed shocked by the videos. It’s no surprise that her ship sails starboard, as hard as she tries to mask it, but I don’t think most people thought she dwelled on the Matt Shea range of the spectrum.

Feucht, a pastor and musician, is a hard-right extremist in his own regard. A self-proclaimed Christian nationalist affiliated with the hyper-conservative Turning Point USA, he has referred to drag queens as “demonic” and rose to fame resisting public health measures during the pandemic.

Just last month, before a series of Feucht’s worship rallies around the region, a group of faith leaders in Washington and Oregon issued a statement denouncing his rhetoric toward gay people as “attempts to cloak bigotry in religious language” and said it is “especially dangerous when paired with Sean Feucht’s and Turning Point USA’s willingness to court violence across the region and the country.”

These are the folks whose blessings the mayor sought Sunday night.

In the cold, embarrassing light of Monday morning, however, her condemnatory spirit came storming back.

Itching from the political fleas she picked up the night before, Woodward issued a bizarre statement boasting about how much time she spent with wildfire victims on Sunday, and then blasting Shea – points for pure chutzpah! – because he “chose to politicize a gathering of thousands of citizens who joined together yesterday to pray for fire victims and first responders.”

This was an incoherent and desperately dishonest feint from the mayor, who also said she didn’t know Shea would be there and that she considers his views a threat to democracy.

The Feucht rally was not a fire relief event of any sort. It was not a gathering intended to “begin the healing process” after the fires, as the mayor put it. It was nothing of the sort – it was a long-planned stop on a multi-city tour by a far-right pastor who thinks we should have a Christian theocracy in this country, and whose associations with Matt Shea were known beforehand.

Also: Neither Shea nor Feucht nor the third man who prayed for the mayor said a single word in those prayers about fire victims or first responders.

If Woodward wants people to think she was an innocent victim of Sneaky Old Matt Shea, she better hope they don’t watch the videos that Peterson so helpfully posted for the world to see. Woodward chose to go up on that stage with Shea, and she stood rapt as he was praying, eyes closed, hands open toward heaven, his hand on her shoulder, smiling and nodding – and she never betrayed a hint of discomfort with any of it, right up to the hug she gave Shea at the end.

You can believe your own eyes or you can believe what the mayor says.

You sure can’t believe both.