Church on the Move pastor Troy Smothermon introduced two City Council candidates to the congregation last month during a sermon, telling his congregation it was time to change Roswell.
Smothermon announced to the church, and its several thousands of members, that members Joe Green, of Ward 3, and James MacCornack were running for office.
“God built his throne on righteousness and justice,” Smothermon said during the service Jan. 12. “It’s time that the people of Roswell, not a handful of the people, but the majority of Roswell, stand up and say we’ve had enough of that same ol’, same ol’, same people running our government.
“We’re the majority and we’re large. And we need to get in charge,” Smothermon said. “And we’re going to vote people in, and we’re going to vote people in that will help that happen.”
Smothermon said the sermon recognized Green and MacCornack as running for office, who they were and what they did for the community. But the church did not fund the campaigns or publicly endorse the candidates.
“Troy Smothermon endorses MacCornack and Joe Green,” Smothermon said. “I don’t speak for everybody in the church. “The people that attend our church, they make their own decisions on how they are going to vote.”
During the lengthy and politically charged address, Smothermon took shots at local leadership and struck blows against candidates running against the church’s members.
The city should have a sign at its entrance that read, “Welcome to Roswell: This has how it’s always been,” Smothermon told members. He called it the “mantra” of the city.
Smothermon talked about how neighborhood division, crime, killings and racism needed to end.
“Somewhere along the line, we need to change it. … God is doing a new thing in Roswell, America,” Smothermon said. And he said God wasn’t at the church just then but MacCornack was. He then introduced him.
“He’s brilliant and smart and running in Ward 2, against a 21-year-old young man and a guy who is on the wrong side of every issue,” Smothermon said.
MacCornack is running against businessman Caleb Grant, who is older than 21, and U.S. Army veteran Jerry Heck.
Grant, a third-generation native of Roswell, responded to the comments Thursday.
“I believe in the freedom of speech, but I’m a strong Christian man as well, and the citizens of Roswell are aware of who will best serve the needs of our community,” Grant said.
Heck questioned the church’s tax-exempt status after hearing the comments.
“Are they a church or a political action committee disguised as a church?” Heck said. “I would enjoy debating Mr. MacCornack on the issues. He’s not running to be an engineer, he’s running to be a pastor. He’s running to represent all the residents of Roswell, not a particular congregation.”
Smothermon introduced Green, saying he didn’t want to run for office.
“Joe didn’t want to run,” Smothermon said in his sermon. “I asked Joe, Joe will you run?”
Smothermon said the incumbent, not naming Councilor Art Sandoval, had not done anything in eight years.
“It’s time for a change in that ward. If I could vote in that ward, I’d vote for Joe Green,” Smothermon told them.
Sandoval said he wanted to stay away from the negative comments.
“I want to be proactive and positive with the community and the constituents I represent,” Sandoval said. “If indeed this individual said something, it’s his right, his freedom of speech. I think there has to be a separation between church and state. I want to continue serving Roswell, the All-American city, where I was born and raised.”
Smothermon said the sermon spoke for itself and he would say it all again.
“I don’t back down or apologize for any of that,” Smothermon said. “I have freedom of speech.”
Church members have contributed to MacCornack’s campaign. MacCornack held a fundraiser and invited mostly church members, he said.
“That’s most of the people I know and I have relationships with,” MacCornack said. “Some of the members are giving me money, not the church itself.”
Green said he did not know who had contributed to his campaign. His campaign treasurer is Phyllis Smothermon, also the financial administrator at Church on the Move.
Smothermon has personally given money to the candidates.
“I have personally, but not as a church,” Smothermon said. “I don’t know how many of the members have given money. My personal contributions aren’t any of your business.”