Controversial Speaker Sparks Large Protest Outside Granite City Baptist Church
ST. CLOUD -- A former Iranian-Muslim turned Christian Pastor stopped to speak in St. Cloud Thursday night and drew both support- and protest - for his views on Islam.
Pastor and head of the "Truth in Love Project Ministries", Shahram Hadian travels around the United States talking about Islam, its relationship to Christianity and his personal experiences inside and outside the religion, and from his time in Iran.
Thursday night he stopped by the Granite City Baptist Church to discuss the "Trojan Horse of Interfaith Dialogue".
His family fled Iran in 1978, just before the Shah was overthrown and the Islamic Republic of Iran was established. His father had served in the Iranian military until 1976, and initially disowned Shahram after his conversion to Christianity.
He calls his time in Iran a "wonderful experience" and says his family still in Iran have shared with him the difference between the Shah and the Islamic Republic, and do not paint a good picture.
"Once we left, and witnessed what's happened since 1979 is very sad. I still have a lot of family in Iran and we get updates all the time on how oppressive it's been."
Hadian says, based off of his own experiences within both faiths, Christianity and Islam do not share common ground.
"It was shown to me, that Islam - I was a Muslim - and Christianity do not have common ground, in fact they're opposites. Therefore I had to make a choice, and I chose to leave Islam and become a Christian."
The groups #UniteCloud and Standing up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Minnesota organized the protest outside the church, bringing over 60 people.
Genjo Conway is a Buddhist Priest and an organizer for the protest. He's spent time in many Muslim nations and says, the protesters have a simple message, hate is not welcome.
"Hate speech and hate groups will not be welcomed into St. Cloud, this is a white supremacist organization that is bringing this speaker here, and that it's important for us to stand up to that."
The Southern Poverty Law Center does list Hadian's group as a recognized anti-Muslim hate group based out of Chattaroy, Washington. Conway says, as much as Hadian talks about Muslim experiences and Islamic faith, he's spreading a much different message.
"It's not really about Islam - he wants to make it about Islam - what it's about is white people trying to keep this community for white people and only white people. So it's not really about Muslims, it's about white people being racist and about white people trying to keep people out."
The SPLC has been under fire recently for labeling several anti-extremist, and immigration groups as anti-Muslim hate groups. They currently estimate that 917 hate groups are currently active in America.
When it comes to freedom of speech, Conway says the views presented at Hadian's talks do not represent that ideal.
"I think that's a flimsy understanding of what free speech is, what's protected by it and what it's for. It's not to incite violence or hatred, it's to keep open dialogue, this is not about dialogue."
The Supreme Court has ruled there are no "hate speech" exceptions to the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. In response to the protesters outside and their accusations against him, Hadian says, he doesn't like how divided people have become.
"Anybody is welcome to come and listen, if they're willing to come listen respectfully. I think that could be a vehicle for some healing if they're willing to listen."
This stop was one of six on the TIL Project Ministry's Midwest Summer Tour. The church estimates that at least 300 people were at the church to listen to Hadian's views - including a small group of protesters - who wanted to hear his talk for themselves.
Last year Granite City Baptist Church hosted the Florida-based Straight Way of Grace Ministry and speaker Usama Dakdok. His talk centered around the idea the Quran does not teach love or peace and Islam teaches followers to kill non-believers.