UPDATE: Monday, May 8: Peterson's statement about withdrawing from the race for Portland Public Schools Board of Education has now vanished, stirring questions about whether he has changed his mind about pulling out of the race eight days before the election. Peterson did not respond to phone calls from the Mercury seeking confirmation. 

A candidate running for the only contested position on the Portland Public Schools Board of Education has withdrawn from the race. 

Less than two weeks before the May 16 special district election, Derrick Peterson announced via his website Wednesday, May 3 that he is pulling out of the Portland school board race. The announcement came after his perceived ties to Christian nationalist religious groups surfaced, drawing questions about Peterson’s motivations for running.

Peterson is a retired Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office captain who cited gun violence, youth mental health, and closing achievement gaps for Portland’s Black and brown students as priorities. 

He was previously listed as an advisory board member of 1 Race 4 Life, an anti-abortion group founded by Southern California megachurch pastor, Ché Ahn. The group upholds strict adherence to biblical interpretations of marriage.

Peterson was also listed as a “commissioned apostle”—part of the National Apostolic Reformation movement–of Harvest International Ministry (HIM).  

Both 1 Race 4 Life and HIM are led by Ahn, an ardent supporter of Donald Trump who spoke at a Stop the Steal rally the day before the January 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C., and whose transphobic and homophobic views crop up frequently online. 

Peterson denied any affiliation with the groups, saying he was unaware his name and likeness were used on their websites.

“I am not affiliated and have never been affiliated with 1 Race 4 Life, nor does it reflect my views,” Peterson told the Mercury on April 28. “I did not give permission for them to use my photo or likeness, name, or information.”

Oddly, the 1 Race 4 Life website is now defunct, as are portions of the HIM website that listed Peterson as an apostle.

The school board candidate noted he believes “people should have the right to do with their body what they want, period.”

Despite denying any ties to the controversial groups, Peterson said the heightened attention was a distraction. He had recently been the subject of a Rolling Stone article examining his alleged affiliations with the Christian Nationalist movement.

“Over the past week my affiliations with various churches have been presented in the media,” a statement on Peterson’s website reads. “This has taken a toll on my family and takes away from the critical work that needs to be done at PPS. I respect our youth too much to allow this distraction to continue. As such, I am withdrawing from the race.”

Peterson’s name is already on the May election ballots. He said if he wins, he’ll resign and allow the PPS board to appoint someone to the position.

Peterson’s opponent for the Zone 3 position is Patte Sullivan, a retired teacher. 

“My intent was only to serve my community and our youth. I believe this is the best way to do so,” Peterson’s statement reads.

While Peterson claimed no ties to Ahn’s groups, critics noted he was photographed with members of one of Ahn’s affiliate churches earlier this year. In September 2020, Peterson gave a guest sermon at one of Ahn’s affiliate churches, New Horizon Church in Fife, Washington. 

At the time, Peterson was still employed as a captain with the Sheriff’s Office and recounted the experiences of law enforcement policing the 2020 racial justice protests in Portland. 

Peterson spoke of “frozen water bottles,” “eggs injected with acid,” and “tennis balls filled with cement” among the objects hurled at deputies and officers during the sustained demonstrations, but Peterson later acknowledged to the Mercury that he never policed the protests, and didn’t have first-hand knowledge. He said he based his knowledge of the events on “intelligence reports,” from law enforcement officers on scene.