On one side of Asbury Park’s Kingsley Street, rainbow signs and flags flew as Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way” blared from speakers. On the other side, a live band played “Amazing Grace” and “This Little Light of Mine” as a controversial preacher took the stage.
That was the scene Sunday evening as Pastor Jonathan Shuttlesworth kicked off a six-day Festival of Life Christian revival in the Jersey Shore town known for its vibrant LGBTQ community.
Shuttlesworth’s past anti-gay comments prompted a quickly-organized counter-festival by local activists in Atlantic Square Park, within shouting distance of the revival in neighboring Bradley Park near the convention center.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say to just ignore it all — but that doesn’t always work out so well,” said Long Branch resident and activist Allison Kolarik, who organized the “Hate Has No Place in Asbury Park” festival. “I’m done trying to pretend injustice goes away on its own. If you don’t stand against injustice, it’ll grow and become normalized.”
Shuttlesworth was quick to address the counter-festival and criticism of his views – he included “pro-gay” in a list of things he considers “antichrist spirit” – when he took the stage Sunday evening.
“We’re here because we love you,” Shuttlesworth told the crowd. “I’m glad you didn’t believe what you read and checked it out for yourself. You can mark down every time I say something hateful. You’ll have zero things at the end of the night.”
Shuttlesworth and his wife, Adalis, run the Revival Today ministry based in Oakdale, Pennsylvania. They operate Revival Today Radio stations, a YouTube channel of “Vidotional” videos, and maintain active Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as a mobile app.
According to Revival Today’s website, Shuttlesworth has “conducted a number of open air crusades and outreaches dedicated to winning the lost” since 2015.
The counter-festival also had live music, food vendors and speakers. Given the short notice, Kolarik said she was encouraged by the show of support.
“I have no words for how amazing and supportive people are,” she said. “I love this city. For anyone to create division here, that would be reprehensible.”
City officials issued a statement denouncing Shuttlesworth’s past comments prior to the festival.
“We respect the Festival’s rights to free speech and assembly,” Mayor John Moor said. “But, at the same time, we implore them not to take advantage of people, and most definitely not to spread intolerance.”
Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn said in an interview at the “Hate Has No Home” festival Sunday that the Festival of Life seemed “innocuous,” and that it wasn’t until after the event’s permit was approved that she learned of Shuttlesworth’s comments.
“I think the whole idea is that a festival in Asbury Park should be something everyone can come to,” Quinn said. “If you’re subtly suggesting being gay and bestiality are the same thing, or calling people wicked in a sermon, that’s concerning, particularly in a community like Asbury Park. But he has the right to say it.”
Anthony Archuleta, crusade director of Asbury Park’s Festival of Life, said the event is open to all people. The overall goal, he said, is to help people in need, through initiatives such as bringing food boxes to the poverty-afflicted residents in partnership with nonprofit Feed The Hungry, as well as raffling off prizes.
“In the country we live in, I love the First Amendment — their right to be there, I stand for that,” Archuleta said as he pointed to the counter-festival on the other side of Kingsley Street. “I understand, in their eyes, there’s something that concerns them. If they weren’t allowed to do that, I would be fearful for this country. I’m happy they have their right, just like we’re happy to have our right to be here. That’s America.”
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