My first interaction with Newsong Church–which has all of the Artists Village in SanTana freaked out because they just bought the Santora Building–came years ago, in a building they currently own on 511 E. Santa Ana Boulevard. Back then, it was known as PrimeUrban, and the main tenant was SolArt Gallery Cafe, which ran a community space for arts and youth for years. I used to be involved with them until, um, issues arose, but I was still in the informational loop when I heard the news: their plans to hold a Queer Ball, a gathering for LGBT high schoolers, was blocked because PrimeUrban's owners found it offensive to their Christian faith.
And one of the anti-gay owners? A Newsonger.
SolArt nevertheless continued, even though more than a few gays and lesbians were involved, without a hitch for a couple of more years…until the owners decided to sell the spot to Newsong, which promptly turned it into their own community center, 511 Creative Community, and pushed SolArt out.
Unlike people who automatically hate anything religious, I don't immediately find Newsong as offensive as the Scientologists. On one hand, there's probably no better church outside of the Mars Hills movement to have purchased the building. O, atheist artists of SanTana: Newsong is a hipster church. They party! They drink! Its demographics are like the demographics of the Artist Village: a bunch of multiculti do-gooders who want to spark a “renaissance” in SanTana. But instead of trashing quinceañera shops, Newsong has been working with the wabs of the city for years. Its most famous alum is councilmember David Benavides, who helped to start Newsong's outreach into the city; a 2003 bulletin of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church obtained by the Weekly wrote Benavides was “forming a group to start a new ministry in Santa Ana.” They have a longstanding alliance with Kidworks, the mighty SanTana nonprofit, and run Laundry Love and Saint City Sessions; the former lets poor folks get their laundry done for free, while the latter lets hip-hop inclined youth do their deal in a safe setting. They truly do care for the downtrodden, and that's more than can be said for some of the Brave New Urbanists who want poor Mexicans out of SanTana and replaced with the umpteenth loft.
On the other hand, though, Newsong doesn't like gays. Oh, they'll deny it to the ends of Earth with the loving-the-sinner/hate-the-sin excuse, but official Newsong policy deems homosexuality “a far more complex issue than simply a sexual preference. There are issues of lack of male-affirmation, spiritual hunger, abuse, narcissism, and relational idolatry that are often not discussed.” What a load of shit! They stress being gay is a sin like any other sin–no more, no less–but still a sin. Fuck that!
And Newsong is already declaring its own potential tenants needing salvation. In an email circulated to members as a Q & A on the subject, one asked “Some of the tenant operations are contrary to church values (i.e. – a cocktail lounge). Is that a problem?”
“We don't think so,” replied Newsong Pastor Dave Gibbons. “We believe that is exactly the kind of people that God wants us to love and connect with.”
In other words, drunkards of downtown (myself included): we are sinners. Expect outreach to us alongside our eighth Manhattan (hit them back with Jesus' water-to-wine miracle, por favor).
I believe Newsong when they say they want to keep the Santora a place for arts and work with the current community, but the fact remains: church members will not allow stuff they find objectionable to happen on their property. If they buy it, it is theirs, and they'll push tenants out one by one and replace them with Newsongers. And they don't like gays. Parachuting into what they consider Sodom and Gomorrah is great for Newsong, but…ah, I forgot my Scripture when I began worshiping in the pews at Memphis at the Santora, so I'll just leave it at this:
Prove us wrong, Newsong. Don't bring Jesus-fication to the gentrification and gente-fication already present in downtown, m'kay?