Ira Glass, host of radio show This American Life, plans to visit Portland on October 7 to talk about his new book, The New Kings of Non-Fiction. But the event—hosted by Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB)—is being held at an unlikely location, given Glass' liberal fan base: New Hope Community Church, a mega-church in Clackamas that is one of the most actively anti-gay churches in the Portland area.
New Hope contributed $9,000 to the Measure 36 effort in 2004, which successfully banned same-sex marriage in Oregon's constitution. New Hope's pastor, Ray Cotton, personally donated a least $1,000. In contrast, most evangelical Oregon churches donated between $100 and $1,000, with only a few churches—like Rolling Hills Community Church in Tualatin, and Mt. Olivet in North Portland—giving more than New Hope.
This past April, Cotton was one of 11 evangelical leaders who hosted a "Pastors and Religious Leaders Day at the Capitol" to lobby against the domestic partnership and anti-discrimination bills.
Both bills passed, and during an August 18 "Marriage and Morality Sunday" event, New Hope was one of the few Portland area churches with a table set up to gather signatures to refer them to the ballot.
But despite New Hope's demonstrated anti-gay leanings, OPB's John Bell booked the 1,500-seat church—whose neon cross towers over I-205—for Glass' Portland appearance. The radio host has nearly two dozen scheduled appearances around the country between September and next summer, but every other city is giving him the mic at a university, arts center, or theater.
Bell, who's "gotten a couple of emails from folks" complaining about the venue, doesn't see a problem with renting New Hope. "It was the venue that was available," Bell says, citing Glass' busy schedule and the "short turnaround time" to schedule the event. New Hope is also "one of the bigger [venues]," Bell says. (Indeed, there are other venues available on October 7, but both are smaller than New Hope. Both the Gerding Theater and First Congregational Church—an "open and affirming" church that has hosted Glass before—indicated to the Mercury that they could likely accommodate the event.)
"My position is that OPB serves a broad constituency," Bell said, adding that he's hesitant to "apply a litmus test" to potential venues for OPB events.
Glass, who had nothing to do with the choice in venue, responded to an email from the Mercury: "I got something from my agent saying two people had written to him complaining about this. Not so great, huh?" He wanted to speak with OPB before commenting further, but did not return a call by press time.