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Reverend's Criticism of Gov. Ron DeSantis Prompts Sunday Morning Protest

ST. PETERSBURG – Reverend Andy Oliver of the Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg is no stranger to controversy, but his recent criticisms of Gov. Ron DeSantis crossed the line with a group of vocal conservatives.

In response to Gov. DeSantis's removal of several math books from Florida schools, over what he says contain Critical Race Theory (CRT), Common Core, and other "woke" content, Rev. Oliver posted to the church signboard, "DeSantis is banning math books because he only knows division... How long O God!" That sparked outrage from Conservative activist Johnathon Riches, who immediately organized a protest during this morning's 10:30 a.m. service. Riches says, "Andy Oliver has turned this church into the far left, openly calling Gov. DeSantis a dictator and Trump supporters white supremacist." Johnathan goes on to say, "He [Rev. Oliver] marches with BLM [Black Lives Matter], calls cops racists, calls Trump supporters racists, and believe he's building a coalition of the left, hiding as the clergy to receive funds as a 501(c)(3), and he's using those funds to perpetuate hate." Riches says he plans to report the church to the IRS and challenge their tax exemption status.

A statement on the church website reads: Allendale United Methodist Church is a Reconciling Congregation. We affirm the sacred worth of all people and strive to practice Christ's example of unconditional love without exclusion. All are welcome to participate fully in the life and ministries of this congregation. Whatever your race, ethnicity, economic situation, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, background or belief, age or condition of ableness, whether single or partnered, you are God's beloved and are welcome here. God calls us to acts of love, grace, and advocacy to promote healing and reconciliation. We are building a new Allendale: a place without barriers, a sanctuary for all.

I asked Father Victor Ray of St. Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Community to share his thoughts on the dispute and he said, "I don't think there is any right or wrong. I think we are all allowed free speech, but I'm noticing in this country that there is a lot of division. It's either a hard right or a hard left and there is no one to talk in the middle. I think they all need to work together and respect each other." With regard to Gov. DeSantis being Florida's Governor, Father Ray says, "In the elections they say may the best person win and that was the will of the people." Father Ray did not choose sides, but he did say, "When you put a group out here that tries to direct the will of the people, that in itself is wrong." St. Teresa of Calcutta shares the same building as Allendale United Methodist.

While protestors stood on the sidewalk in front of the church, someone turned on the sprinklers, dousing picketers with water. Some protestors believe the church may have violated the city's water conservation ordinance by turning the sprinklers on outside the designated time frame.

A group of churchgoers stood face-to-face with DeSantis supporters, but they refused to engage or comment to the media about the issue.

There were about 20 pro-DeSantis protestors and only a handful of Progressive activists during the event, which remained peaceful throughout.

The sign was later changed to read, "Love so boldly that people feel the need to protest you."

I tried speaking with Rev. Oliver outside the church this morning but he refused to comment on the issue.


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