Jeremy Flanagan, pastor of Pathway Baptist Church in Fayetteville, AR, is the recipient of the Conservative Arkansas Conservative of the Year Award for 2015. Flanagan was instrumental in the push to repeal Fayetteville’s highly controversial Ordinance 119. The award was presented at the Conservative Arkansas March 28 chili supper. The text of the presentation speech follows.
As many of you know, in August of last year, much of our attention became focused on a new ordinance proposed and approved by the Fayetteville City Council. The ordinance that would ultimately become Chapter 119 was part of a strategic campaign funded and spearheaded by an LGBT organization called the Human Rights Campaign. We would soon discover that Arkansas was among the HRC’s strategic targets as they aspired to enact local laws across the country that create a new protected class and a new level of civil rights that cater to the LGBT community…rights that simultaneously undermine the most fundamental rights that already exist under both our US and Arkansas Constitutions.
Our concerns about the law were brushed aside as exaggerations, but the ramifications of similar laws already enacted in cities across the country validated our concerns. Houston area pastors were being subpoenaed for their sermons in relation to that city’s new civil rights ordinance. In Washington, a state college affirmed their decision to allow a 45-year old transgendered male to continue using the girl’s locker room despite exposing himself on several occasions. Across the country, there are now cases piling up in which business owners are losing their livelihood and paying in excess of $100,000 for declining to bake a same-sex wedding cake or host a same sex ceremony.
Yet, even among such examples, those who would oppose such laws are quickly branded as the unreasonable ones, or hateful and intolerant. We are undeniably embroiled in a culture war. But the people of Fayetteville and surrounding areas answered the call to battle. They rallied to council meetings, prompted by an urgent email from Stephanie Nichols who sounded the alarm, and they waited and listened into the early morning hours, as Justin Tennant was initially the only alderman that opposed the ordinance. They rallied to strategy meetings, where Duncan Campbell readied the troops. They rallied to social media to inform the public and defend their position. They rallied in their churches. They rallied around men who took on the daunting task of running for City Council, where John LaTour now serves. They rallied to the streets with petitions and made Fayetteville the first city in the nation to get a repeal effort on the ballot. And while the war is far from over…as evidenced by the HRC’s recent attempt to undermine Governor Hutchinson’s drive to bring new businesses to Arkansas…Fayetteville citizens rallied to the voting booth and defeated this law.
So in the spirit of tonight’s award, we wanted to take a moment to acknowledge everyone who sidelined or compounded their daily routines to answer the call, and who will no doubt continue to take up the charge to defend religious freedom. And along the same sentiment, we want to honor one man in particular for his help in defeating 119.
On August 5th, on the same day that the city council had scheduled the 2nd review of the proposed ordinance, Pastor Jeremy Flanagan was among those overseeing his church’s summer camp program 3 hours away. He made that long trip in time to make that critical meeting, and was among the first to respond to a public debate on the issue, repeatedly taking the city council to task over the ordinance. After hours of discussion that seemed to fall on deaf ears, finally closing with the accusation of having “darkness in their hearts”, Jeremy then made the 3 hour trek back to camp. This would be indicative of the kind of time, dedication and self-sacrifice that he would continue to contribute until 119 was overturned. From that moment forward, in addition to the already heavy responsibilities of leading and maintaining a thriving upstart church, he became an integral part of the Repeal 119 movement. From engaging business leaders in our own community and consulting with religious leaders out of state, to tactical planning and building the web page; From developing marketing strategies to crafting a message that was seasoned with grace; From door to door work to news interviews, if a demand needed to be filled, Jeremy made sure that it was met. And when the natural issues of too many chiefs had everyone tempted to fire off in different directions, we have no doubt that he played a big part in keeping everyone all on the same page pooling their resources.
But perhaps above all else, he led by example for church leaders and their congregations that are too often afraid to publicly address political issues, for fear of offending present or future church membership or of potentially violating their tax-exempt status, however detrimental it may ultimately prove to the practice of their faith. He often worked behind the scenes in ways that may not have been obvious to many, and he did so in a manner that never sought credit or recognition, but we’re going to give it to him, anyway. With that, we offer our great appreciation to our 2014 Conservative of the Year, Jeremy Flanagan, and to his family, for accepting and weathering the challenge that was put before him.
— written by Jennifer Fournier, read by Jana Della Rosa