Mercy Culture wants to build a 100-bed shelter. Pastor says those opposed are ‘demons’
The senior lead pastor of Fort Worth’s Mercy Culture Church, in a weekend sermon, referenced some residents’ opposition to the church’s plan to build a shelter for human trafficking victims. Those residents, he said, are demons, witches and warlocks.
Pastor Landon Schott’s comments came over a year after Mercy Culture sent in a city application to build The Justice Residences, which the church envisions as a long-term shelter for 100 victims of human trafficking. The application was met with intense opposition from neighbors and neighborhood associations, who balked at the idea of the shelter because the church proposed to build it on its campus adjacent to a neighborhood of single-family homes. The church withdrew its application in April 2022, but church leaders have continued to talk about plans for the project.
On Sunday, Schott labeled last year’s opposition to the project as “insane demonic resistance.”
“I said about a year ago there’s demonic people in that neighborhood and there’s some people in our church that got upset with me,” Schott said in the sermon.
Schott then said a church member had recently sent him pictures of a “seance” with “feces and blood” that a witch held on that member’s front porch. (He did not name the church member or show any pictures or other evidence.)
“Where there’s witches and warlocks that live in the neighborhood that are actually doing seances on the porches of people that go to our church. See, see, you thought I wasn’t being nice when I was talking to demons,” Schott said. “Listen, it is not not being kind to a person — I’m not talking to people, I’m talking to devils.”
Mercy Culture did not respond to requests for comment.
Rick Herring, the former moderator of the Riverside Alliance and a now-city council candidate, publicly opposed the shelter last year. Herring said he is not a demon, a witch or a warlock, and that he never opposed the shelter’s goal of helping human trafficking victims. Herring was instead opposed to The Justice Residences for logistic reasons: It would be a high-density development in a neighborhood of single-family homes.
“That’s what it boils down to, is basic elements of zoning that we have in place in the city of Fort Worth to protect neighborhoods and businesses and churches from uses that are not compatible,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the ministry itself, with the church, with the members there. It purely and simply is a land use and zoning issue.”
Schott’s comments over the weekend, Herring said, mirror the way that the church dealt with those zoning concerns last year.
“it just shows a level of immaturity and childishness, to respond in that way because they can’t do what they want to do,” Herring said. “When you’re discussing land use and zoning issues, you need to be thoughtful and thorough and reasonable about the discussion, about the facts involved.”
Although Mercy Culture already owns the property on which it wants to build the shelter, the property would need a zoning change to allow the project to move forward. The church applied for this zoning change in early 2022, but the city of Fort Worth issued a report recommending that the application be denied due to incompatibility with the existing neighborhood as well as parking issues.
“The proposed transitional ... is not compatible with surrounding single-family and school related land uses,” the report says. “The proposed use would also eliminate much needed parking for the existing church, which would result in parking continuing to overflow into the neighborhood.”
Kathryn Omarkhail — the president of the Oakhurst Neighborhood Association, which also opposed the shelter last year — said Schott’s language over the weekend felt in line with previous comments he’s made.
“There’s some really bizarre accusations out there that have no basis and have absolutely no place in Oakhurst,” Omarkhail said.
The neighborhood association opposes the shelter because of the impact it would have on the Oakhurst neighborhood, Omarkkail said, which would also exacerbate existing issues with traffic and parking.
But Omarkhail said it seems that Mercy Culture’s approach has been to demonize residents so their concerns aren’t taken as seriously.
“Basically, if you don’t support what he says, then you can’t be a Christian,” Omarkhail said. “They’ll say and do anything to make people afraid of the residents.”
Sharon Buse, the president of Friends of Oakhurst Park, said that organization also has some logistic concerns with The Justice Residences.
Buse is also part of another group, called Not In My Neighborhood, which is based in the same area and works to raise awareness about child trafficking. And that group, Buse said, also opposes The Justice Residences because the design does not follow best practices for protecting and aiding trafficking victims.
“We believe that their intentions are good but they should’ve sought out professionals in the field,” Buse said. “That’s the big concern: that they’re taking on something that they know nothing about.”
The city’s zoning and land use manager, Stephen Murray, said in an email Thursday that the city has not received a new application for the site.
But the project does still seem to be top of mind for Mercy Culture leadership. Senior Pastor Heather Schott — who is Landon Schott’s wife and the founder of Mercy Culture’s anti-human trafficking nonprofit The Justice Reform — spoke about the shelter at the beginning of Sunday’s service. She called for church members to get involved in the project and to sign up to donate their time and talents.
Staff writer Harrison Mantas contributed to this report.