Vandalized banner will hang as conversation piece outside New Jersey church
An act of vandalism, in the form of a defaced “Be the Church” banner in New Jersey, could end up being a catalyst for change and conversation.
After someone threw red paint on the sign that includes several other messages — including “Protect the environment,” “Care for the poor,” “Reject racism,” and “Embrace diversity” — hanging outside The Community Church of Mountain Lakes, N.J., Senior Pastor the Rev. Debra L. Duke was looking for an explanation. It was the second time one of the church’s banners has been vandalized. About a year ago, a rainbow “God is Still Speaking” banner was cut down and stolen.
“We do not know who the perpetrators were in these two acts of violence against our church, but we do know that our message of inclusivity and action on behalf of those who often have less power is getting attention,” said Duke. But she, with the backing of the Church Council, decided to leave the defaced banner up for the time being. “We hope that this might spark conversation about inclusivity and rigidity in our society.”
The banner, slashed with red splotches, was left hanging in a prominent spot outside the sanctuary during a church open house so that the community could see it. “The Church Council thought this an important step in not cowering or hiding the act,” said Duke. “We want our community to see the red paint and to think about how we might better live together.”
“As we did after the first incident, we will replace the banner and will continue to work to be the church of Jesus Christ, working for peace and justice for all,” said Duke.
“The Council decided to change it up and get the ‘Jesus Didn’t Turn People Away’ banner, but to also hold onto the ‘Be the Church’ banner with the paint,” she continued. “We just may choose to hang it out again or use it when we talk and teach about tolerance and dealing with conflict in the community.”
Jack Gentul, The Community Church Council president, said that he believes that the UCC slogan, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here,” is more important to the congregation now than ever before.
The Mountain Lakes Police Department is investigating the vandalism, and the church is looking to install security cameras, even though some of the church leadership expressed a preference for spending their resources (time, energy, money) working toward creating greater tolerance in the community, rather than toward policing it.
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