PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) — Eight men who in January hurled a fiery message outside of a Spanish Mass in Portland do not represent a new phenomenon of the Trump era. Instead, they are part of a long tradition of Christian splinter groups that react virulently to change and see themselves as prophets.
The group known as Bible Believers is led by Grant Chisolm. The trendy-dressing vintage shop owner said he does not have an anti-immigrant agenda. He claims instead that he preaches against a culture that has veered from biblical truth.
“Most churches are not teaching a repentant gospel,” Chisolm told the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.
“They are speaking a loosey-goosey, sloppy-jalopy gospel where everybody gets to heaven,” added Chisolm, who often wears a fedora. “I do have a vendetta against Catholics.”
For years, Chisolm has preached and worn sandwich boards outside of strip clubs and churches in the Lents area of Portland, where he grew up. He also travels to speak on the periphery of large events such as rock concerts, the New Orleans Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl. He has shown up as an antagonist at anti-Trump rallies and was knocked unconscious by a protester at the Portland airport.
Asked why he would include Catholicism and its many helpful ministries on his black list, Chisolm reverts to archaic Protestant ideas, namely that there is no need for a church or saints, but that individuals should “speak directly to God.”
Chisolm, whose father also was a street preacher, said he saw women at St. Peter dressed “immodestly” and so the group hollered about harlots and prostitutes.
“Yes, we are provocative,” he said.
Pressed about reported anti-immigrant rhetoric, Chisolm said he and his group speak about what is relevant at a given time and location. He claims he did not know that he had come upon a Spanish Mass at Portland’s St. Peter Parish Jan. 29 and that he did not speak against migrants, though he admits some of his companions did.
Others in his group are Hispanic, he said, adding that he has done design work for Portland’s Mercado, a business venture led by Latinos.
“We are not pro-Trump or fascist. We preach the gospel,” said Chisolm, who often speaks out against homosexuality.
He said he and his team will probably avoid St. Peter Church, one of five houses of worship they visited in January that included Baptist and Pentecostal congregations. Chisolm does not have much use for churches and carries out his spiritual life solo.
“These are people who have resisted modernity,” said Will Deming, professor of theology at the University of Portland, which is affiliated with the Congregation of the Holy Cross. Deming pays attention to U.S. religious movements and said groups such as Chisolm’s “feel helpless because they don’t have a real voice in the larger society.”
Deming said that such groups cling to a pre-critical view of Scripture and tend to use Bible passages to support whatever agenda they have at a given time.
“Maybe he thinks of himself as a sort of a prophet,” Deming said of Chisolm.
William Dinges, professor of religion at The Catholic University of America, said there is nothing innovative about Chisolm and his followers.
“These are motifs that have been around for a long time,” Dinges said. “He sees a gap between what he thinks the followers of God should be and how he sees the world.”
Dinges concluded that Chisolm is not self-aware enough to realize that his interpretation of the Bible is just that: one man’s interpretation.
Langlois is editor of the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.