The following editorial appeared in the Staunton (Va.) News Leader on Sunday, July 10, the day after a church fire and anti-gay graffiti jolted members of St. John's Reformed UCC in Middlebrook, Va.
It was a small fire, but a loud message. A 225-year-old church in rural Middlebrook was damaged when someone set hymnals ablaze. The choir loft and a pew were burned, and smoke damaged the sanctuary.
The apparent motive was left in graffiti.
The congregation of St. John's Reformed United Church of Christ was left angry and in tears. What was their crime to receive such punishment? Their denomination last week voted to consider opening its doors to gay couples who want to marry. The UCC's General Synod decision to endorse gay and lesbian marriages is not binding on local congregations. It is beyond the ability of words to convey the nightmarish irony of such hatred.
First let's look at the history of the UCC: Its forefathers left Europe to seek a new world in the early 1600s. By the 1700s, these Pilgrims took a stand against slavery.
In 1773, a member of the church, Phillis Wheatley, becomes the first black woman published author. In 1785, Lemuel Haynes is the first black minister ordained by a Protestant denomination.
In 1846, the first anti-slavery society is formed.
In 1853, the fist woman pastor is ordained.
In 1972, the first openly gay minister is ordained.
In 2005, the denomination's synod overwhelmingly endorses gay marriage in its churches.
The United Church of Christ takes each word in its name to heart. It opens doors; it doesn't close them. It welcomes all; it doesn't shove them aside.
For this, we should thank the church's members as well as its leadership.
For this, we should gather in prayer for them, no matter our own beliefs or faith.
For this, we should condemn any actions of hatred against this or any place of worship.
This morning the congregation of St. John's Reformed UCC will gather on the lawn under tents to celebrate its 225th anniversary. The planned sermon was on the Heidelberg Catechism, focusing in part on Matthew 22:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself."
It is a courageous church that seeks to live by these words.
It is a cowardly fool who seeks to express words of hate with masked malice.
Reprinted with permission.