Odessa clergy and church leaders on Friday issued a stinging public rebuke to Mayor Javier Joven for making disparaging and false remarks about Councilman Tom Sprawls and his wife, Patti, where he questioned their Christian faith.
Joven also accused Sprawls’ wife of pressuring her husband not to vote in favor of a proposed ordinance that would make Odessa a sanctuary city for the unborn.
Joven made his comments during a recent Zoom meeting where the mayor urged local clergy to pressure Sprawls and other council members to pass the ordinance.
His actions and comments were condemned in a statement released Friday and signed by 10 at Connection Christian Church, where the Sprawls both serve as elders of the church.
“We experienced your recent remarks as disparaging of our brother and sister in Christ,” the statement read. “We can only assume you do not know them well at all.
“Your remarks questioning his Christian faith come from your apparent belief that to be Christian is to advocate for criminalizing abortion. Our understanding is that you are requiring what Christ did not require. We, even as Elders of our church, do not assume to speak for our congregants on this issue, or any other.
“Our church tradition, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has only one test of Christian faith: the great confession from Matthew 16:16. “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” The remainder of our faith is worked out as a matter of conscience and continuing growth in Christian maturity. We object to your making how one votes on this issue into a test of faith.”
The joint statement was signed by Connection Christian Church pastors Dr. Joe Weaks and Dr. Dawn Weaks, along with church elders.
Joven, who has been lobbying the council and community to make Odessa a sanctuary city for the unborn, claimed during a May 17 Zoom meeting that Patti Sprawls was pressuring her husband to not support the abortion ordinance.
“We’re one vote from passing it,” Joven told clergy members participating in the zoom meeting. “The one vote I have been waiting for has basically said, ‘I’m not going to vote.’ His wife doesn’t want; will not allow him to vote yes – and that is Sprawls.”
Later, Joven repeated his claim.
“Sprawls’ is the swing vote, and he is dragging his heels because he would have to answer to his spouse and he will not do that,” Joven said.
The Sprawls were not invited to participate in the Zoom meeting, but did review a recording of the meeting later. The couple both denied Joven’s accusations.
In a separate statement that Patti Sprawls released on Friday, she wrote that the mayor’s comments displayed a “lack of credibility” and she questioned his ability to lead the city.
“Mayor Joven’s comments regarding the fact that I put pressure on my husband to vote my way was based on hearsay and by repeating it he was bearing false witness,” Patti Sprawls wrote in a letter to the OA. “Interesting enough, I have never met Mayor Javier Joven. Even worse, he directed his comments to clergy in our area.
“The Mayor has the right to make his case for why this city should pass that ordinance. He has the right to address any interest group he wishes. However, he does not have the right to declare a statement that is not true or impugn my husband’s character. For that, he should be ashamed.”
Patti Sprawls added: “This … is not about the issues associated with a sanctuary city or abortion in Odessa, rather it is an editorial reflecting the lack of credibility demonstrated by Mayor Joven. I do not question his zest and passion and I applaud his conviction, but in my opinion, this has clouded his judgment. I believe it is compromising his ability to remain open-minded and fair to others. If anyone in a leadership role feels the need to make statements and innuendos about a constituent, those statements should come from comments made during a one-on-one conversation instead of hearing it from the “grapevine.”
“Hearsay, misleading and untrue statements reflect poorly on anyone especially from our mayor.”
Joven, who has not responded to requests for comment, on Thursday shared a post from The Potter’s House of Dallas on his personal Facebook page that indicated that he was feeling persecuted.
“It may seem like your enemies have you surrounded but God has you covered. Your haters will have to get in the ditch with you in order to destroy your destiny. Keep breathing and believing.”
Commenting directly on the post, Joven wrote: “Now this is prophetic … keep praying and believing.”
During the zoom, Joven said he is reluctant to place the abortion issue before council for a vote anytime soon because he knows it will face certain defeat. In January, Joven asked council to consider the ordinance during a work session and council members Detra White, Mari Willis, Steve Thompson and Sprawls stated they would not support it. Joven said at the time he would bring the issue back to council at a later date. Joven’s political allies, council members Mark Matta and Denise Swanner have publicly expressed support for the ordinance.
Joven previously, and during the zoom session, questioned the faith of the four council members who opposed the ordinance.
The Mayor said pursuing a public vote is a last resort. An election would cost taxpayers more than $100,000 to hold, Joven said. It would also take about one year to schedule, he added.
“A campaign is a lot of work, it’s hard work,” said Joven, who noted it would take at least 7,000 signatures to get the ordinance issue on the ballot.
Sprawls said this week that he would support a public vote on the proposed ordinance, but did not think it was needed because legal abortions have not occurred in Odessa in at least a decade, according to local health officials.
“It would be an ordinance chasing a problem we don’t have,” Sprawls said. “We don’t need that.”
Sprawls also said he thought it was ironic that Joven and council members Denise Swanner and Mark Matta are reluctant to hold a public vote on the abortion ordinance because of the cost, but are lobbying for a public vote on whether to renovate the city’s aging water plant.
“Sometimes what they say and do doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Sprawls said.
Matta took exception to Sprawls comments.
“I have never said I’m opposed to a public vote on this sanctuary city ordinance,” Matta wrote in a text sent to the OA. “I haven’t said anything to Tom Sprawls about not wanting to take this to a public vote or take this to a public vote. (sic)
“He just assumed what he said in order to help make (the OA’s) story a lil’ more juicy and to get a lil’ dig in there as a bonus. I realize the (OA’s) job is to try and sell papers. For the record I am not opposed to a public vote on this issue. This is all I have to say about this.”
The mayor has repeatedly called the sanctuary city ordinance his “top priority” for Odessa.