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Activities of council candidates' church draw criticism

Council candidates' church, its activities criticized. Political commentary, children's training on weapons cause some to believe radical views will influence council decisions.
By Michael Baker and John Estus Published: February 27, 2011

photo - Windsor Hills Baptist Church, 5517 NW 23 Street, in Oklahoma City Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011. Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD
Windsor Hills Baptist Church, 5517 NW 23 Street, in Oklahoma City Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011. Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD

Another former graduate of the church's high school, who wanted to remain anonymous, showed reporters a video he identified as a recording taken of events at Windsor in the Wilds. The Windsor Hills Baptist School graduate described it as militia-like training.

The video opens with a church service inside a metal structure. A man sings to the congregation, and paper shooting targets with a human torso and head outline can be seen hanging on a wall. The video then shows the pastor teaching young girls how to hold and fire an automatic gun before the weapons are fired at targets.

Militias became a heated issue in Oklahoma last year when a handful of conservative state politicians and activists linked to the Sooner Tea Party and its leader, Al Gerhart, were reported to have suggested forming a state militia to defend against unwanted intrusion by the federal government.

Gerhart, the politicians and other activists have said their comments were mischaracterized. This year, Sooner Tea Party endorsed Van Manen and Hearron for city council.

Gun safety training, others say

Vineyard did not respond to a request to verify the video but said calling the camp activities militia training mischaracterizes what is happening. There's no stash of weapons at the church camp or plan to overthrow the government, he said.

"This is well supervised, very well disciplined, very respectful of those that are in authority," he said. "If you're believing what somebody's telling you about a militia, then you've got it all wrong."

Ed Cunnius, the coordinator of the state Wildlife Conservation Department's shotgun training program, said the camp has some of the best supervision that he sees when presenting the department's program. The department has taken its basic Shotgun Training Education Program to the camp for three years.

Cunnius said before the first time he went to the camp he heard something about it being a militia-style camp, checked into it and found the accusation false.

"If it was something that was out of the way or something that wasn't kosher, I would be the first one not to be there," he said. "I wouldn't expose the department to any kind of controversy, or I wouldn't expose my program to anything that would be questionable."

Confederate flag

It's not just politics and guns that have led to criticism.

Oklahoma Baptist College, which trains preachers, holds the North South School of the Prophets at the end of the school year.

Students divide up sides and are judged on sermons they give. Photographs of the event posted on the college's website show one group of students holding American flags and the other group of students holding Confederate flags.

"That just flies in the face of not just African Americans, but all reasonable thinking people," said The Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr., senior pastor of East Sixth Street Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Jackson is not related to The Rev. Jesse Jackson who regularly makes the national news.

"There's no rationale that people can make for me to agree with flying it right now and it's certainly no use in a church," said Jackson, who preaches to a congregation of mostly black people in northeast Oklahoma City.

"Why an institution of higher learning would be going back and revisiting the same arguments that were settled 150 years ago, is troubling."

Vineyard, who is president of the college, said the event doesn't have anything to do with the reasons for the Civil War.

"It's all about preaching," he said. "That's just what we choose to use. It's a fun time; it's a good experience."

Hearron said he has attended the event in the past.

"I believe it is a motivation fun type of thing and the sides north versus south could have been salt versus pepper; it could have been yes versus no," he said. "I don't think there's really any thought of the actual south and the actual north."

Pastor will carry on

Vineyard said he will continue to speak his mind on gun control and other issues, despite criticism.

In December, Vineyard and others took a Windsor Hills church bus to Bartlesville, where about 60 people gathered outside a dinner for state House Republicans. Protesters warned of dire consequences for RINOs "Republicans In Name Only " in response to Republicans that were not conservative enough on social issues.

"They needed to hear our voice," Vineyard said. "That's part of the American process, isn't' it?"

Vineyard said he also goes to the state Capitol on a regular basis to talk with elected officials.

"I'm going to stand up as every citizen should have the right to do," Vineyard said. "The First Amendment is for everybody."

Van Manen and Hearron said they support Vineyard's right to voice his opinion and agree with him on many of them, but said people should not mistake all the pastor's words for theirs.

"The impact on my decisions come out of the Bible, the principles that I find there and live by, the principles that the founding fathers put in our Constitution and the state constitution, the city charter," Hearron said.

Van Manen and Hearron said the scrutiny of their church is trivial and unfair.

"Ward 8 people are not stupid," Hearron said. "They shake their heads and smile when they hear stuff like that. They know what's going on."

Van Manen said: "I'll guarantee you that the criticisms are unfounded and unjust ... I want nothing but what is best for people and that's what our church wants."

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