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Woodward distances herself from controversial pastor after Sunday prayer event

A video still shows Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward (third from right) praying with former Washington state Rep. Matt Shea (center) and musician Sean Feucht (left) at the Podium, Sunday, August 20.
Still from video posted by Idaho Tribune
A video still shows Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward (third from right) praying with former Washington state Rep. Matt Shea (center) and musician Sean Feucht (left) at the Podium, Sunday, August 20.

After being videotaped praying at a conservative religious event with former state lawmaker and pastor Matt Shea, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward sought to distance herself from Shea’s views.

In videos shared online, Shea is seen placing a hand on Woodward, praying for her and imploring the crowd to do the same. The prayer took place at an event Sunday evening at The Podium. Woodward was also seen hugging Shea at one point.

Shea was removed from the Washington House GOP caucus in 2019 after an investigation concluded he was involved in conflicts of political violence, including armed standoffs against the federal government in three states. At the time, Woodward, who was in her first race for mayor, condemned what she called Shea’s “divisive and extreme rhetoric and ideology.”

At the same event where he prayed for Woodward, Shea mentioned same-sex marriage and transgender people among "problems" that needed to be solved by Jesus, according to a video shared by conservative media outlet Idaho Tribune.

In a statement Monday morning, Woodward criticized Shea for “politiciz[ing]” a prayer event she said was intended “for fire victims and first responders.” Though Shea referred in his remarks to the fires that have burned more than 31 square miles of Spokane County, the Let Us Worship event had been planned since at least early May, and was not organized in response to the wildfires.

Writing on Twitter Monday evening, Shea said the event "wasn't for 'fire victims.' [Woodward] was invited and she accepted BEFORE the fires started on Friday."

Shea noted that the group did pray for victims and for local political leaders, but added Woodward "is the one that politicized what everyone knows was a worship event. We are praying for Nadine."

The event in Spokane was part of a larger tour of the Pacific Northwest led by Let Us Worship's founder, Sean Feucht.

Feucht gained a right-wing following for railing against and defying coronavirus prevention measures in 2020. He also allied himself with former president Donald Trump, and appeared at one stop of the 2021 "ReAwaken America Tour," which peddled coronavirus misinformation and supported conspiracy theories related to the 2020 presidential election and QAnon.

In video footage taken at Sunday's event in Spokane, Feucht could be seen standing near Shea and Woodward during the prayer. He placed a hand on Woodward's shoulder during a subsequent prayer.

Monday afternoon, Woodward released a second statement. It said she did not seek, nor did she accept, any support from Shea. She characterized his views as “a threat to our democracy,” and said she regretted appearing in public with him.

Woodward also said she didn’t know Shea would be at the event until she was already there, and “should have made better efforts to learn who would be speaking at the event.”

The mayor did not say why she didn't leave the event when she realized Shea was there, or after hearing his anti-LGBT remarks before the public prayer. She did not comment on Feucht's involvement or views.

Also in attendance Sunday night was Earl Moore, a candidate for Spokane City Council District 2. Contacted by local journalism outlet Range Media, Moore confirmed her presence, but said she was there as a "prayer warrior" and that she had no comment.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.