Ken Hutcherson, the anti-gay pastor of Redmond's Antioch Bible Church, has sparred with heavy hitters before. He's gone to battle with Microsoft over its support for gay rights. He's argued with the Associated Press, claiming last year that the wire service mischaracterized his plans to launch a national boycott of gay-friendly business. But now Hutcherson is taking on the heaviest political hitter in the country: the Bush White House.
It's a fight that could have harsh repercussions for Hutcherson, both politically and legally. Already, he's being cast by the White House as, at best, confused about whether he had the authority to speak as a Bush administration "special envoy" during a recent trip to Latvia. Hutcherson reportedly appeared with a well-known Holocaust revisionist, rallied Christian worshipers at an evangelical church, and complained to U.S. embassy officials in Riga, the Latvian capital, about their alleged financial support for local gay-rights groups. Closer to home, Hutcherson is now facing a complaint filed on Monday, March 19, with the local office of the FBI, alleging that if he represented himself as a "special envoy" without authorization, he may have broken federal laws.
The controversy began when reporters at The Stranger and the Seattle Times noticed an unusual claim in a March 16 e-mail from Hutcherson to his "Prayer Warriors," a group Hutcherson regularly asks to pray for everything from his lost luggage and his foot injuries to his appearances on cable talk shows. "I was honored to receive a commission by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives as a Special Envoy," Hutcherson wrote. He told his "Prayer Warriors" that his new purview included "the following areas: Adoptions, Family Values, Religious Freedom, and Medical Relief." He added that the new title "allowed me to meet with the Latvian government."
Hutcherson said that on his trip, in addition to meeting with Latvian government officials, he'd used a meeting at the U.S. embassy in Riga to express his concern that officials there "support the homosexual agenda," and asked for a "full report" on the matter. In a phone interview, Digne Lubina, a spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Riga, confirmed for The Stranger that Hutcherson held a meeting at the embassy. Lubina then requested that all other questions to be sent via e-mail, and did not respond by press time to a query about whether Hutcherson presented himself as a "special envoy." Ivan Boryagin, a member of New Generation, the conservative Latvian church that Hutcherson visited on his trip, told The Stranger in a phone interview and in subsequent e-mails that Hutcherson had presented himself as having "a mandate to represent the White House." In an audio recording of Hutcherson's visit, provided by Boryagin via e-mail, a man who sounds like Hutcherson can be heard saying: "I have the power and the commission to ask these questions."
When asked about the title Hutcherson has claimed, Alyssa J. McLenning, spokeswoman for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said her office "did not give Hutcherson the title"—or any other. She declined, however, to provide any details about recent meetings Hutcherson may have had with White House officials.
Hutcherson told The Stranger his title came straight from the director of the Faith-Based office, Jay Hein, whom he claims to have met with twice about his Latvia plans. "You need to talk to Jay Hein," Hutcherson said. "He's the one that I've been talking to." Hein, through his spokeswoman, declined to be interviewed. Despite the differing accounts, Hutcherson has spent time with Hein recently. A photo posted on the New Generation website shows Hutcherson, Hein, and the pastor of New Generation Church standing together and smiling after a February 8 meeting at the White House.
It remains unclear what produced Hutcherson's belief that he was a "special envoy" to Latvia. But if he was given the impression that the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives took him seriously, when in fact it did not, he wouldn't be the first. The office, created by Bush, has been described by one prominent former insider, David Kuo, author of Tempting Faith, as a scam used to trick evangelicals like Hutcherson into thinking they have clout with the administration, while in private, administration officials call people like Hutcherson "nuts" and "goofy."
Hutcherson maintains that he's no dupe and says he is rushing to get his hands on video of an interview conducted by a Latvian television station after the February 8 White House meeting. The video, he says, will show that Hein knew of his title and supported his trip.
"I'm gonna prove that I had those meetings," Hutcherson said. "I'm gonna prove that I got that title behind me."