The Union Democrat

Chaplain draws scrutiny over ties to group against gay rights


A Sonora pastor who has been a chaplain for the Sonora Police Department has ties to a Modesto group that fights against gay rights.

David Bush, pastor of Oak Hill Presbyteri­an Church, is allied with Straight Pride Coalition, which last year staged a protest against gay rights and intends to hold another in August.

His denominati­on, Orthodox Presbyteri­an, advises its members that homosexual­ity is a sin and transgende­r is a psychologi­cal condition not based in reality. It cautions, though, that people should be approached with compassion to encourage them to change.

At least one person has called Sonora Police Chief Turu Vanderwiel to complain about Bush’s ties to the department in light of his beliefs.

Vanderwiel said Wednesday Bush is not officially on the roster as chaplain, but has remained on the on-call list. He said he is looking into the complaints and, for now, the department would call on Sheriff’s Office Chaplain Greg Elam for help, if needed.

The police department chaplain is a volunteer post that is not a platform for espousing an individual’s religious beliefs, Vanderwiel said. The chaplain helps officers with the stresses of the job and accompanie­s officers when they notify relatives of a death.

Vanderwiel said Bush was on the chaplain roster when he joined the department in 2004. He said he has never received a complaint about Bush trying to prosthelyt­ize while working as a chaplain.

On his church website, Bush says he is chaplain for the police department and the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office. Niccoli Sandelin, spokesman for the sheriff’s

office, said Thursday that Bush has never been a chaplain for his department.

Bush said he volunteere­d for both agencies shortly after he came to Sonora in 2002 and has become less involved in the past few years because he is leading four Orthodox Presbyteri­an groups — two in Nevada, one in Calaveras County and his own church on Peaceful Valley Road.

Sonora resident Lauren Hurley, who issued a call for community action on Facebook, said she believes a person who espouses that gays are perverts and sodomy should be criminaliz­ed should not have ties to local law enforcemen­t.

“Some people have said he’s a good person, which is great and wonderful, but if homophobia is part of it, it’s frightenin­g to me,” she said. “I can’t stay silent.”

Carly Fox, a teacher in San Carlos who grew up in Tuolumne County, said she is concerned that Straight Pride also has ties to white evangelica­l nationalis­m and has expressed her concern to Vanderwiel.

Fox attended an evangelica­l Christian church as a child and her experience was that members and leaders could not separate their world views from their actions with people outside their belief system.

“It’s hard to engage in any way. It’s black and white,” she said, adding that for them believing anything outside the inerrancy of the Bible is a “demonic battle.”

Bush called the charge that Straight Pride is a white supremicis­t group slander and patently untrue. He said various groups have tried to describe the organizati­on as such based on its belief that America has strayed from its founding principles, which he described as Christian. He said Black people are involved in the organizati­on, which believes all lives matter.

He also said he does believe the Bible says homosexuai­ty is a sin and there are two genders — male and female, defined at birth.

“The most loving thing I can do is to tell homosexual­s it is a dangerous thing to do and they are playing with sin.” One day, he said, they will stand before God in judgment.

“I love homosexual­s,” he said, noting that he has family members who identify as LGBT. Before he was saved at the age of 29, he said, he supported gay rights.

But, he said he does not express his beliefs while working as a chaplain. His job is to help people through the trauma of death, the physical aspects of grief, the death process, and to free up officers to do their work.

“This is not the ground to fight that on,” he said. “It’s not time to teach.”

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