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On Friday nights in downtown Springfield, groups will sometimes utilize public space through protest, with religion a common theme. But a new group is concerned about the negative reactions some religious messages may bring to the neighborhood, and are offering an alternative. During the latest First Friday Art Walk, KSMU’s Kaitlyn Schwers visited downtown to learn more.
Last month, Katie Webb was with friends in downtown Springfield when she noticed a few people holding signs at the corner of South Ave. and Walnut St. She recalls that others were yelling at the group—disagreeing with their religious messages written on poster boards. The situation gave her an idea.
“Prior to that, I was aware of them, but I thought, ‘You know, it would be so fun to go down and hold positive signs next to them. Try and counter that,’” Webb said.
Webb, herself, is a former member of what she calls a cult—a religious group that is similar to what she’s seen downtown.
“… I used to be on the other side where I was very judgmental and very condemning of people, and so now to see how they were received and just the negativity it brought to downtown, I thought, you know, we should combat that," she said.
Webb created a few signs of her own and started a group called Positive Presence Downtown—inviting others to share feel-good messages downtown. No religious or political messages are allowed, she says. Messages they share say things like, “You are brilliant” or “You are wonderful.” She says the group has generated more interest than she imagined, and more people are coming up with signs of their own.
“Every week—this is the third or fourth week that we’ve done it—we’ve gotten more and more people that have wanted to join us and do this," she explained.
Positive Presence gathers on Friday nights and often stands next to the religious group she encountered before, who are members of the Church of Monett.
David Keeling is an elder of the church, and he has been coming downtown with other members every weekend for 15 years to spread his faith.
“We’re not a denomination at all—we’re just followers of the teachings of Jesus," he explained.
Keeling notes that people sometimes react negatively to his signs—usually when it has to do with marriage. His sign on Friday read “To marry a divorced woman is adultery.”
“Whenever we say that one man and one woman should be married together for life just like everybody makes in their covenant relation marriage vows, and then we say if you break that, you’re disobeying God’s ways. Well, people get angry because they’re breaking that, and they don’t want to listen to what God wants to do, so they become upset and say we’re hating them because we love the purity of one man and one woman until death,” Keeling said.
He had one response to the efforts of Positive Presence Downtown.
He said, “They’re representing what they know and they’re following the master of this world, and I just would hope they would realize that God’s laws—written on our heart—are there, whether we accept it or not.”
Both groups plan to continue coming downtown—one in hopes of giving the area a more positive vibe, and the other to support their religious beliefs. So far, Positive Presence Downtown has a Facebook group with 24 members, and Webb says she hopes to see more join her downtown in the future.
For KSMU News, I’m Kaitlyn Schwers.