A California worship leader who came to Seattle and packed Cal Anderson Park Sunday night with hundreds of people, many of them not wearing masks or social distancing, has left a trail of questions in his wake.
Among them: Is anybody enforcing health regulations? Also: Was Sean Feucht’s “Riots to Revival” rally an example of Christian love or its antithesis?
Wading through a maze of bureaucracy suggests an answer to the first question: No, not at this point, although Tara Lee, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jay Inslee, said her office “will have a conversation” with the Seattle Police Department (SPD) about its lack of enforcement.
The second question taps into deep feelings about the right to pray as a group during the COVID-19 pandemic — feelings that President Donald Trump gave voice to in May when he declared houses of worship “essential” and said he would reopen them if governors did not.
Restrictions on group worship still exist, including in Washington, and Feucht defied them with his prayer rally. Local pastors didn’t necessarily cheer him on.
Feucht, on his website and Twitter account, gives himself a lot of titles, including missionary, former Congressional candidate, recording artist and “founder of multiple worldwide movements.” He is also a volunteer worship leader at Bethel Church in Redding, California, where he and his family attend, according to a church spokesperson.
Feucht organized and financed the Seattle event himself, according to the church, which has distanced itself from the series of rallies the worship leader has been holding across the country under the “Riots to Revival” banner.
He describes these events as an attempt to “change the narrative” of what’s been happening in this country.
“All of America has seen these buildings burning and they’ve seen this destruction and this violence,” he said on FOX TV the day after the Portland rally. He appeared to refer to Black Lives Matter protests, though many were peaceful.
“But I’m telling you, there is another story of what God is doing in these cities and the church is rising up.”
As well as praying, there was music, lots of it, at his Cal Anderson Park event, which resembled an outdoor concert. Feucht, who has long blond hair and wore cutoff jean shorts and a Seattle SuperSonics jersey, played acoustic guitar. Throngs danced, and jumped up and down.
Black Lives Matter chants could also be heard from some counterprotesters, met by attendees trying to drown them out with “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”
Cyndi Hansen of Lynnwood said she didn’t know anything about Feucht before she went. Her brother told her that afternoon there would be worship happening in Seattle. “Hey, that sounds like fun,” she said.
She said she missed being with other people, worshipping and listening to music.
Many people do, said Scott Dudley, senior pastor of Bellevue Presbyterian Church, which like many houses of worship is broadcasting services online. He didn’t go, but he said he talked to a few members of his congregation who were planning to.
“There’s something that happens when you worship together,” Dudley said. “The Holy Spirit is present in a different way.” He said people also feel they’re not alone in their faith.
Hansen said that before going to Cal Anderson, she grabbed her mask, which she takes with her wherever she goes, and her brother wore one, too.
The relative scarcity of masks at the event, however, caused some to lash out on social media. One person on Twitter told Feucht to take note of the “indescribable harm you did yesterday to a neighborhood that you live thousands of miles away from.”
Rebecca Sumner, pastor of Welcome Table Christian Church on Beacon Hill, was similarly appalled. “Traveling from town to town to have a rally is a really great way to spread a deadly disease,” she said, adding that she has a 4-year-old daughter with a health condition that makes the girl particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
“It’s just not at all in line with a person of Jesus,” she said. And she said she found it insensitive to hold such an event where the Black Lives Matter protest zone known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest used to be, given that people of color are disproportionately impacted by the virus.
Aaron Monts, pastor of United Church of Seattle in Queen Anne, who spent time at an interfaith table in the protest zone, also said he thought Feucht’s event showed a lack of caring for the community.
He went further. “It was lawless,” he said, referring to violations of health regulations.
Some on Twitter made a similar point. Asked one: “Why wasn’t masking enforced?”
It’s a question asked of other events as well, like campaign rallies held by a number of Republican gubernatorial candidates. Some have also pointed to crowds and lack of social distancing at Black Lives Matters protests, though many wore masks.
“I feel there’s preferential treatment for protesters and punishment for churches,” said Dan Kellogg, founding pastor of Gold Creek Community Church in Mill Creek.
Nobody in Washington seems to be punishing Feucht, however.
The Cal Anderson event violated the governor’s orders for religious services during the pandemic, Lee of Inslee’s office confirms. King County is in Phase 2 of the governor’s Stay Home regulations. Until today, when the governor updated the mandates for religious services, it was unclear how many people could attend a service outdoors. The regulations strangely did not address that, as the update does, allowing up to 200 individuals.
But the regulations yesterday and today require 6 feet of distancing between people, masks to be worn and no choirs or musical performances of more than two people, or singing without a mask on.
On top of that, Cal Anderson Park is closed because of ongoing repairs since the protest, so Feucht wasn’t supposed to be there.
“SPD will not be enforcing COVID-19 orders,” said spokeswoman Sgt. Lauren Truscott, saying the department provides education instead.
Det. Patrick Michaud added that there is no law on the books that would come into play. In contrast, he said, police give out citations for people who don’t wear bike helmets because there is a relevant state law.
The governor’s office says he’s mistaken. State codes “show that not following the governor’s orders can result in a gross misdemeanor,” wrote Lee in an email. “This is a law, so it can be enforced by local law enforcement. Now, whether or not they chose to do so is a different question.”
It sounds like SPD officials have chosen not to do this in this case, she added, answering questions about the Feucht rally. She said the governor’s staff would talk to them.
Whitney Whit, a spokeswoman for Sean Feucht, did not address the regulation violations when asked. Instead, she forwarded this statement from Feucht.
“We didn’t set up any barricades, light any fires, loot any businesses, or start any riots. We gathered in peace with churches from all over the city to sing songs of praise, celebrate His goodness and our freedom as Americans.”
While most of the people in photos and videos from the event were white, the statement continued: “A racially diverse community of Christians unified in worship to our resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ, praying for peace and revival in the city of Seattle.“
Seattle Times staff reporter Benjamin Romano contributed to this report.