Herman Greene, a candidate for a seat on the Portland Public Schools Board, attended a worship event last Aug. 8 on the Portland waterfront that drew a mostly unmasked crowd of thousands.
A social media post about the event shared with WW shows Greene standing atop a raised platform with his head bowed, eyes closed and hands raised while his wife, Nike Greene, preaches to the crowd through a standing mic. Greene’s mask is tucked underneath his chin.
Herman and Nike Greene are co-pastors of Abundant Life Church in North Portland. Nike Greene directs the Portland Office of Violence Prevention, which seeks to reduce shootings in the city.
Greene is running to represent Zone 4 on the Portland School District’s board, and he’s expected to win. He has received the endorsement of all incumbent board members, the teachers’ union and dozens of other community activists and groups.
But the photo of him among the leaders of the event defying public health restrictions has raised questions about his judgment days before mail-in ballots are due.
The worshipers came to watch a controversial Christian singer named Sean Feucht in Tom McCall Waterfront Park, as first reported by KGW. The worship service defied Gov. Kate Brown’s limits on the number of people allowed to attend a worship event, which was capped at 50 during much of the fall.
Herman Greene tells WW he visited the event for a short time to be a mediator. Greene says people told him they felt discomfort with an out-of-state Christian singer who came to Portland in August to lead a worship service for a crowd of thousands of unmasked worshipers, which Feucht dubbed as a “unity” event.
That event occurred at the height of nightly Black Lives Matter protests against the federal government—and Feucht’s visit carried racial and political undertones amid its ostensible call for unity, though Greene says his perception of it wasn’t that it was a racial issue. (Greene is Black, and Feucht is white.)
“Here’s somebody who’s not from the city, trying to come in and say we don’t know what we’re doing,” Greene says. “I went down to say, ‘Are you aware this is what’s being perceived?’ I said that to Sean.”
Greene says he talked to the singer prior to the event and asked him to apologize to the crowd. He says Feucht did so, and then asked Greene’s wife, Nike, to recite a prayer, which she did. (None of the videos posted by Feucht on YouTube included the apology Greene says Feucht made.)
Greene says after the prayer that he and his wife left.
When asked about the concern that he was in front of a crowd of thousands of unmasked attendees, Greene said it wasn’t his job to stop the event but instead to be a peacemaker.
“Those people were there already. My job wasn’t to stop those people from being there, because they were already there,” Greene says. “They were already going to do what they were going to do. My job was to stop anybody else that wasn’t in their space from coming into that space and causing tension.”
When asked about who would’ve caused tension and disrupted the event, Greene said, “There were people from the community that didn’t want them there,” but he did not elaborate further.
He says he can understand people’s concern over the optics of his appearance.
“I hear it, but I was there as a means to bring peace and stop other things from happening,” Greene says. “I’m consistently served to call in a capacity of peace. Show me another video where I’m negating the governor’s orders, show me another picture where I’ve disregarded what the governor said, show me another conversation where this has happened. You mean to tell me people scrape the bowels of the internet to come up with two pictures to say that I was at somewhere? That’s the best you can come up with? Check the receipts, that’s all I’m saying.”
Feucht has long, blond hair and sings Christian rock, pop and soft rock. Portland was one of Feucht’s first stops on a concert tour across the country, defying various state health orders.
On Fox News the day after the Portland event, Feucht said: “Thousands of people, the church showed up and we don’t have the total estimate somewhere between 4 and 7,000: white, Black, Hispanic. We released our song of hope over the city, people gave their life to Jesus, we baptized people in the river.”
In the caption to the YouTube video, Feucht wrote: “We need BOLD and COURAGEOUS pastors that are not only going to stand on our constitutional rights to worship but are going to stand up against the insanity of these laws that are targeting the church.”
For the past year, Portland Public Schools has been navigating how to return kids safely back to school amid the pandemic, even as a debate about safety has often grown rancorous. That makes Greene’s appearance at the unmasked event an issue relevant to the School Board election.
Greene says he didn’t know the event was an anti-masking event until after the media covered it. He says his primary concern was defusing a politically combustible situation in the midst of civil unrest.
“It wasn’t until after it was reported that I knew about the event, as an anti-mask, anti-government event. It was essentially, as I understood it, an event where they wanted to bring our community together,” Greene says. “But the problem was, there were other churches within the community that felt they hadn’t been involved in that process. And now this larger white organization was gonna come in and tell Black America what we’re supposed to be doing. People had taken offense to that.”