After lying about offer to convert Muslim woman, Kansas senator opines on ‘lost souls’
In secret audio recording from meeting of Republicans in Hutchinson, Sen. Mark Steffen says he was haunted by his response to a Kansas Reflector reporter who asked about offering to convert a Muslim woman. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Sen. Mark Steffen says he never felt so overwhelmed as when he was caught lying about his offer to convert a Muslim woman.
In a secret audio recording obtained by Kansas Reflector from a meeting last week of Republicans at Riverside Baptist Church in Hutchinson, Steffen described a group of young adults who visited his office in March as “horrible” looking and “a mess.”
The first-term senator from Hutchinson also expressed internal anguish over the possibility he had been less than 100% truthful when he claimed he never offered to convert the Muslim woman. His concerns were realized when his comment was verified by an audio recording of the encounter.
“It was the most overwhelming thing I’ve basically ever done in my life, because I was so caught off guard,” Steffen said. “But what a gift the good Lord gave me. It is one thing throwing red meat to hungry carnivores. It’s a whole other thing witnessing to these lost souls. They’re so angry and so broken, and they don’t know why. That’s the highlight of my time in the Legislature.”
Kansas Reflector first reported on Steffen’s offer to convert in an April 27 story about the March 16 meeting with Rija Nazir, who is Muslim, Jenna Dozier, who is Jewish, and others. Nazir asked Steffen how he planned to represent non-Christian constituents.
“I would be happy to try and convert you,” Steffen said.
When a Kansas Reflector reporter asked about the comment, Steffen said it was 100% false. He later offered to convert a Topeka Capital-Journal reporter who also wrote about the exchange.
A Muslim advocacy group released the audio and asked Steffen for equal representation of all constituents.
Steffen told a crowd of about 50 people at the May 4 meeting of Reno County Republicans that his “dear, sweet” office secretary had “let me down” by allowing the group of “kids” to march into his office.
“I’m sorry to say, but these kids looked horrible,” Steffen said. “There was transgenders and, you know, they were proudly telling me they were homosexuals, lesbians. They were a mess. I was doing the best I could. Sometimes I get in over my head, and that was one of them.
“And one of these girls all of a sudden starts asking me pointed questions like, ‘I’m a Muslim, and you have a Bible on your desk, how could you possibly represent me?’ And you know, that’s a kind of question I wish I had thought through beforehand. I truly don’t remember what I said. I truly don’t. This little thing, I was just thinking, ‘They gotta leave. They gotta leave.’ And I really didn’t remember what I said.”
Steffen said he began to question his denial shortly after he talked to the reporter from Kansas Reflector, which he described as “a liberal rag.” Kansas Reflector is a nonpartisan nonprofit news service.
“So now I’m haunted ’cause, you know, I have to be 100% truthful all the time or I’m done the second I’m not,” Steffen said. “I’m done. I’m too abrasive, and I’m too obnoxious. I have to be truthful.”
He wondered: “Did I accidentally lie?”
“Now I’m thinking, ‘How do I handle this? How do I say what’s right to bring glory to God? How do I do right by God?’ ” Steffen said.
Then, he said, he realized God put him in this situation.
Steffen said news reports made his offer to convert Nazir “sound like it was in the wrong.” He consulted with former Rep. Tatum Lee-Hahn, a Republican from Ness City, to draft a statement for his Facebook page in which he claimed liberals were attacking him for his Christian faith.
The explanation by Steffen came at the end of a 90-minute meeting attending by at least one other legislator, Rep. Michael Murphy, of Sylvia, and local GOP officials. The Reno County GOP chairman, Ryan Patton, opened the meeting by asking that no audio or video recording be made.
In interviews for this story, Nazir and Dozier disputed Steffen’s account of their meeting in March. They said they don’t remember anybody talking about their sexuality or gender identity.
The women said they visited the Statehouse as part of an initiative to understand the legislative process and get to know legislators.
“I only mentioned being Muslim because I noticed all of the Bibles in his office, and that he is very proud of being Christian,” Nazir said. “And I love that he’s Christian. I love that he can express himself. I love that for him. I would never want him to change that about himself. But I want that feeling to be reciprocated, and he did not do that.”
Dozier’s response to Steffen’s account of the meeting: “That’s like crazy. Wow.”
“I think he’s just trying to backtrack after he sees all the negative reactions he’s getting,” Dozier said. “He already has that precursor, calling us horrible people. He knows what he’s doing. He’s an adult man. He knows what he’s saying.”
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