Embattled Clackamas County Commissioner Mark Shull on Monday apologized to the Muslim, immigrant and Black communities for offensive comments recently unearthed on his Facebook page.
After a local resident compiled a blog documenting alleged Islamophobic, anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ posts Commissioner Shull had made, area groups and numerous officials, including Chair Tootie Smith and his three other fellow commissioners, publicly called for his resignation.
The Board of County Commissioners last week went so far as to approve a resolution censuring Commissioner Shull and asking that he step down. It passed unanimously, with even Shull himself voting in favor of the resolution.
But on Monday, the Muslim Educational Trust and area religious leaders announced they were gathering on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to hear from the commissioner and discuss ways they might move forward.
Shull spoke about his military service, in which he spent more than 25 years with the U.S. Army and Marines, including a tour in Iraq following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City.
While not excusing his social media remarks, he explained that they had been made through a lens of geopolitical strife and national security — a lens he admitted he should have given up long ago.
“This is a time for understanding and clear communication,” he said. “I have been made aware and clearly understand the need to shift my focus from outside agents of conflict to addressing internal agents of conflict. I must work to defuse the situation and build unity and peace, and maybe even promote a few smiles, some laughter and a feeling of joy to our situation.”
He said he believed the unearthing of his past comments had been politically motivated — pointing out they were originally sent to media outlets, without ever asking him for an explanation — with the goal of forcing him out of office.
At the same time, he understood his statements had caused “sincere concern and hurt” in the Muslim community, and he apologized.
He said he received hate mail and even death threats.
“Not one person who denounced me took the time to discuss the facts,” he said. “Not one person who wanted to assassinate my character took the time to assess the life of Mark Shull. Politicians took action to distance themselves from me.
“Political rivals, some of who may have been involved with the Monday morning email, took advantage of the situation to further secure their political goals.”
Amidst the firestorm of condemnation, Shull said he heard a “lone, kind voice, extending dialogue,” from the Muslim Educational Trust, which organized the virtual event Monday.
Last week, Shull met with Muslim faith leaders and community members as well as representatives of the Latinx community.
“I listened to their stories of the challenges faced by Muslim immigrants as well as those of the Latinos,” he said. “I saw eyes where tears had been. I heard voices longing for acceptance and friendship as Americans who love this land. In every story the love in their hearts became evident.
“These were real Americans who respected the Constitution, while peacefully following their faith. These were Americans who love this land as I do. I went home that afternoon with a new enlightenment.”
Shull asked that the Muslim, immigrant and communities of color consider his request for forgiveness, that “this conversation wouldn’t end.”
“I accept full responsibility for every word that ever came out of my mouth, regardless of the situation in which those words were spoken or to whom the words were directed,” he said.
“Today, with humility and sincerity, I ask for the good people of the Muslim community to consider my request for forgiveness for causing them fear, for adding
pain, and for failing to have greater consideration for my responsibility to them as Americans. … It is my hope that when I leave this room today, that I have received your forgiveness and maybe even your friendship.”
Shull did not address transphobic statements he’d made or offer an apology to LGBTQ community. And although he did offer conciliatory remarks directed at the Black community, he used a loaded phrase when asked by a faith leader to give a statement on Black lives.
“All lives matter,” he said. “Black lives. White lives. All lives in God’s creation.”
While faith leaders at Monday’s press conference condemned Shull’s remarks, describing them as “racist, bigoted, xenophobic, and Islamophobic,” they also offered him an opportunity for reconciliation.
“We have chosen a path of healing,” said Wajdi Said, president and co-founder of the Muslim Educational Trust.
The Rev. J.W. Matt Hennessee, of Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church, was among those who helped organize and spoke at Monday’s event, remarking on Jesus’ exhortation to forgive not seven times — but seventy times seven.
“No person should be judged by their worst mistake, especially if they have asked for forgiveness,” Hennessee said, adding later, in a prayer: “Forgiveness is hard for some, but it should not be for the people of God.”
Coming to the lectern one final time at the end of the event, Shull addressed those who may be skeptical of his words.
“I do not expect everyone in our state that has heard this today to believe in my sincerity, because anyone can say they are sincere,” he said. “I ask only that you look at my performance in the coming days and months, and then decide.”