Lynnwood Christian conference raises worries
Seattle Times religion reporter
A Christian movement that takes a hard line against homosexuality is holding a conference this weekend in Lynnwood, generating controversy among those who consider the group dangerous.
The movement, Watchmen on the Walls, draws followers mainly from Russian-speaking, conservative evangelical churches and counts among its leaders Pastor Ken Hutcherson of Redmond's Antioch Bible Church.
Hutcherson said Watchmen's leaders are "men who believe in the word of God, who see society going down the wrong path, and we do not want our country to go down the path we see it going on our watch."
But those leaders have made headlines from Seattle to Sacramento to Riga, Latvia, for their heated rhetoric against homosexuality.
"I would characterize Watchmen on the Walls as one of the most virulent anti-gay organizations we have seen in this country," said Mark Potok, spokesman for Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights organization.
The center recently issued a report saying Russian-speaking Christian fundamentalists, mostly from the former Soviet Union, have formed a "ferocious anti-gay movement in the western U.S."
Watchmen is expecting about 600 at a conference Friday through Sunday at the Lynnwood Convention Center.
"Our policy, as a public assembly facility, is that everyone has the right to assembly, regardless of what their views are," said Eddie Tadlock, general manager of the Lynnwood Convention Center.
The convention center could exclude groups with a history of harming people or property, but Watchmen has not had such problems, Tadlock said.
Watchmen has held events at Bellevue's Meydenbauer Center and at the Seattle Sheraton Hotel & Towers without incident, said Cmdr. Chuck Steichen of the Lynnwood Police Department.
But the department has received conflicting information on whether there will be any protests at this event, so there will be more officers at the site than at usual convention-center events, Steichen said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center believes the movement could be dangerous. Its report connects Watchmen followers with fierce anti-gay protests on the West Coast and in Riga.
The center points out that another Watchmen leader, Scott Lively, co-authored a book saying gay people were central in forming the Nazi Party and orchestrating the Holocaust.
Josh Friedes, advocacy director for Equal Rights Washington, which speaks on gay issues statewide, said groups like Watchmen have a right to assemble and speak.
But "we believe they promote an extremist agenda that seeks to deny gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people the most basic civil rights.
"And we are deeply concerned that they would be willing to accomplish this agenda through means that might include violence or intimidation."
Hutcherson, who will be speaking at the conference this weekend, says the movement isn't violent.
"You're going to have extremists on any aspect on any teaching," said Hutcherson, who helped form Watchmen along with Alexey Ledyaev, an ethnic Russian megachurch pastor based in Riga. Ledyaev and Lively are scheduled to speak at the conference, as is Wade Kusak, publisher of a Russian-language newspaper in Sacramento and Seattle.
Pastor Joseph Fuiten, of Bothell's Cedar Park Assembly of God Church, is having second thoughts about his scheduled appearance at the conference. Fuiten said he had been asked to speak on voter registration.
"I have very little respect for the Southern Poverty Law Center," Fuiten said. "The allegations and charges that they make are frequently over the top. I respect what they did about the Klan and stuff like that," he said of the group's stance against the Ku Klux Klan. "But they are not an objective arbiter of what is hate."
Still, "I don't want to be associated with hate or violence," he said, "although I don't have reason to believe there is any associated with this group."
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company