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Prayer march in Conway creates tension among social justice activists



Conway, Arkansas – A prayer march in Conway has been accused of promoting hate.

The “Conway Prayer March” on Facebook says the march was for “the faith community of Conway gathering together to pray for our city and nation” but some activists felt differently about the group’s intentions.

“We did some research into who was kind of facilitating leading this and it turns out to be a vehemently hate group that is anti-gay anti-Islam anti-women,” President of the Faulkner County Coalition for Social Justice, Stephanie Gray, said. They rallied other community organizations together to host a “Rally Against Hate” event at the same location as the prayer march’s final destination.

“We are very concerned that our mayor was the one to host this kind of forum,” Gray said. They said the group who helped host the prayer march along with the mayor was a hate group. “The Return” organization believes the legalization of same-sex marriage was orchestrated by satan and that Islam is a “vile and evil” religion. The Rally Against Hate flyer said “These views are wholly inconsistent with how our city should promote itself. It is morally irreprehensible that our Mayor is sponsoring an event with this group.”

“If anyone on either side the Christian side or the opposing side hate one another, then we’re wrong,” Mayor Bart Castleberry said. He said that the Rally Against Hate group had every right to be there. He said the prayer march was about peace and showing the love of God.

“We’ve gotten to that point in our world to where if someone disagrees we can’t just disagree we just automatically go to hate,” Castleberry said.

The Return organization is against same-sex marriages.

“As someone who grew up in a Southern Baptist home with one parent who is pro-LGBTQ and One parent who was not? I don’t want to blanket statement every one of faith,” Brooklynn Mason, co-organizer of the Conway Mutual Aid Collective, said. Mason was there for the Rally Against Hate and said she was pro-liberation of queer and racially marginalized people.

“To me, same-sex marriage isn’t right but that doesn’t mean I have to hate them as people,” Brandy Pratt, a prayer march attendee, said. “You hate the sin and not the sinner.”

Conway Todays asked Mayor Castleberry his stance.

“No matter what you say there’s going to be people that are for it and people that are against it and what does it accomplish we’ve not done anything but keep stirring the hate,” Castleberry said.

Rally Against Hate organizers said the mayor hasn’t been transparent or accountable since protests erupted over George Floyd’s death. They said he was incorrectly calling protestors radicals.

“He has actively encouraged police teargassing individuals,” Gray said. “The mayor has also stopped any kind of town hall public discussion about racism police brutality but yet he can have an in-person prayer meeting.”

The mayor said the prayer march was not about any candidate, any political party, or any political issue.

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