From his office at the corner of Southeast Duke Street and 52nd Avenue, Pastor Darrel Lee looks out on the campground that serves visitors to the international headquarters of his Apostolic Faith Church.
On June 29, the church welcomed about 2,000 Apostolic Faith pastors and worshippers to the site for the movement's 101st annual camp meeting. Many of the visitors, some from as far away as Lagos, Nigeria, and Kawasaki, Japan, are roughing it in the 535 tiny wooden cabins and 73 RV spaces on the 12.5-acre campground (others are staying with family or at motels).
Lee, superintendent general of the worldwide church since 2000, portrays his church as remarkably conservative. From the suits, ties and long dresses to the restrained Sunday services featuring formal "greeters" to the pioneer-style camp meetings minus the pioneers, the church is unapologetically and, somehow, indefatigably static.
We've always wondered about the enormous "Jesus, Light of the World" sign on the building that Lee—a bespectacled, 55-year-old man with a receding hairline, puffy cheeks and a soft spot for piano—calls "the tabernacle" in the middle of Duke Street. We used the camp meeting, which runs through July 13, as an excuse to visit.
WW: What's with the big sign?
Darrel Lee: The "Jesus, Light of the World" was originally used in our first headquarters building downtown at Front and Burnside, and that lighted sign, "Jesus the Light of the World," appeared there. Then when we had a church at 6th and Burnside—it became an electric sign as I recall—and we've just always used it. The words are from the Gospel of John.
How hard is it to fill the pews in a less-churched city like Portland?
We have good attendance. There's enough interest in the holiness way of life from children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of Apostolic Faith members. Heritage is very important to those who have grown up in our church. We've also had tremendous interest from the Eastern European community. Those who have immigrated here from specifically Romania and Ukraine and Russia are used to a similar holiness Pentecostal way of life. When they come here, it's not too long before many of them hear of the Apostolic Faith. And if they deem their church to have become too liberal they know that we are more conservative.
How is your church conservative?
Just the careful way of life. You've devoted yourself to serve God, you want your decisions to be guided by God, so our people are careful with where they work. It may dictate where they work. We're throughout society, we're schoolteachers—but, we're not bartenders. I don't want your readers to read some things that we're not and be offended, but these people are very careful.
Have you ever preached anything that would make a future presidential candidate flee from you like Obama with Jeremiah Wright?
I don't think anybody in our church will be running for president.
Yeah, they would probably find something in any church. We obviously would not condone the gay lifestyle. We wouldn't turn a gay person away from attending our church…they would attend our church a long time before they would even hear reference to it. But eventually they would hear us refer to Romans the first chapter, where Paul the Apostle referred to that homosexual lifestyle as being sinful. I suppose it wouldn't compare to Jeremiah Wright.
I've got this pamphlet your church printed, "A Glimpse into the Future." I was surprised at how much there is about how Jews will suffer in the future.
It may be offensive to people, but that is what the Bible teaches. It does teach that they will yet endure great persecution. But the Bible does say that a remnant shall be saved.
The pamphlet also says "terrible locustlike creatures will be released from underground" and will attack people for five months. Do you also believe that will happen?
Does it give a scriptural citation?
So that's what the Revelator saw, yes.
What's a "revelator," and how do you know he's right?
I was referring to the last book of the Bible, Revelation, written by John. He is sometimes called John the Revelator. I believe him to be correct because we believe the Bible to be inspired of God.
So you think locustlike creatures will come from underground?
The church claims 1 million adherents worldwide, but only 5,000 in the United States, with hundreds in Portland—home of the church headquarters.