Stephen Oduntan, Staff

A group of more than 30 L.A. County faith leaders staged a press conference outside Citizens for Waters campaign headquarters in Hawthorne this week following recent online attacks against Rep. Maxine Waters from her rival Republican Joe Collins who is running to unseat the 15-term incumbent.

The press conference was organized by the Coalition of Los Angeles Interfaith Leaders, who praised Waters’ more than 40 years of public service tackling difficult and often controversial issues.

One by one, they stepped up to the mic and made a case for why voters should support Waters’ campaign and not allow Collins to oust the longtime Democratic lawmaker from her congressional seat in November.

“Maxine Waters has a history of being there for her community. Her opponent is somebody who just popped up off the scene. We know what a wolf looks like in sheep clothes. We can see the handwriting on the wall. We know the narrative this GOP candidate is trying to put out there. So, we just want everyone to know that we the faith leaders are praying for the congresswoman in all her goals and priorities,” said Rev. K.W. Tulloss, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Southern California.

Pastor William D. Smart Jr. delivered a highly energetic speech.

“We’re here because no voice has been stronger,” said Smart, president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California.

 “No love has been more meaningful. No commitment has been greater. No cause has been more resounding. No articulation has been more significant. No warrior has been more engaging. No responsibility has been more dutiful. No fight has been more relevant. No congressperson [is] more dependable. No person has been more courageous. No voice has been more righteous. No clarion call has constantly answered. The divine imperative is always on Maxine Waters.”

The faith leaders took umbrage with Collins who released a scathing campaign ad attacking Waters for living in a multimillion-dollar mansion while representing a district plagued by crime and poverty.

“Do you know where I am right now? Maxine Waters’ six million-dollar mansion,” Collins says in the video ad. “Do you know where I’m not right now? Maxine Waters’ district. Maxine does not live in her district, but I do,” Collins said.

As of Thursday evening, the campaign ad had received more than 138,100 likes and more than 69,300 retweets.

Collins says he made the decision to leave the Navy so he could run for office, which he could not do while on active duty. The 34-year-old and South Los Angeles native is a huge Trump backer running in District 43—a Democratic stronghold district with a population of about 710,000 individuals. He has outlined some of his priorities for change in the district, including combatting the lack of quality education, gang activity, the sky-high crime rate, and homelessness.

But Pastor Shane B. Scott (senior pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Watts and the organizer of the event) said Maxine Waters’ record speaks for itself and that the 82-year-old congresswoman has championed the cause of all Americans.

“In case Mr. Collins needs to be reminded, you don’t just serve 15 terms if you’re ineffective. But rather you serve 15 terms because you have been a champion for justice. Champion for justice for all people whether they are Black, White, Asian, Latino, and Native Americans,” Scott said.

Scott also challenged the legitimacy of Collins’ Navy service record. 

“Mr. Collins,” said Scott. “We are well aware that you have been dishonorably discharged from the Navy. We are aware that you have been prohibited from using the word veteran to identify yourself. Hence on the ballot you are identified as a sailor.”

The tall, sharply dressed pastor spoke for about five minutes and offered a catalog of damaging information against Waters opponent, including allegations that he had not paid child support.

As for Collins, he took to Twitter and scoffed at the faith leaders for holding the press conference.

“I love how a few black pastors in LA got together to try and smear my name on behalf of @RepMaxineWaters. Too bad they’re too afraid to approach me like real men. Just like Maxine is too afraid to debate me. They have the real fear of God in them when it comes to Joe Collins,” he wrote in a tweet Tuesday.

To that end, Tulloss told L.A. Focus that Waters’ political opponents are ignorant of the work she has done in the community she serves.

He said, “Maxine Waters is the voice of the voiceless. And of course, anyone held in such high esteem is often demonized. Look at how the president even talks about our congresswoman.

“Repeatedly, President Trump has insulted and besmirched Waters calling her “an extraordinarily low IQ person.”

Tulloss added, “Regardless of what anyone has to say about Maxine Waters, we love and appreciate her.”