Washington church won’t let hate win as violence against LGBTQ+ escalates
Throwing a party to show “love is greater than hate” seemed like the proper response to theft and vandalism, said the Rev. Gen Heywood of the Veradale United Church of Christ in Spokane Valley, Wash. The church’s Pride and Black Lives Matter flags were stolen during Pride Month, and someone poured diesel fuel on the church lawn spelling out LEV 2013, a reference to Bible verse Leviticus 20:13.
The following Sunday, over 130 people showed up to their “Love is Greater than Hate” party — even though their congregation is much smaller, at only 25 people at the moment.
“There was even a couple who identify as atheists who came to our party, because they said they couldn’t let this kind of hate stand,” said Heywood.
It was more than a month later when officials finally declared the incident to be a hate crime. Heywood called it a “relief” and gave local police Chief Dave Ellis credit for his investigation.
“The FBI is now involved as well,” Heywood noted.
No one has been held accountable to date. She says elected officials need to speak out and speak up quickly in the wake of crimes such as these.
Attacks happening across the country
Veradale is one of many churches across the country that have come under attack recently. In Henderson County, N.C., recently a protest outside of a progressive church escalated and halted morning services. Signs containing religious references and anti-LGBTQ+ remarks were held by people lining a sidewalk near the First Congregational Church.
There was also violence at a June Pride parade at an elementary school in North Hollywood, Calif., when over 100 parents rallied against the event. Messages and signs protesting LQBTQ+ rights outside Saticoy Elementary led to a fight between the two sides as tensions mounted. The Los Angeles police broke up the melee.
UCC addresses these issues
The UCC National Setting recently addressed best practices in local church security in a blog post by General Counsel Heather Kimmel. Her advice includes how to be aware and assess the risks when welcoming visitors, how to conduct a threat assessment, establishing security guidelines and what to do if your church is attacked.
“Preparing your church to protect itself from violence and harassment is good ministry,” Kimmel writes. “Time and attention spent on safeguarding the church’s resources now may avoid damage to critical infrastructure, including people and property, that will disrupt the church’s essential ministries.”
General Minister and President the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson addressed the violence and steps that must be taken.
“The church has always been considered safe and sacred space, providing shelter and care for many across time and generations,” she said. “On occasions when the church has chosen justice over normalized injustices, discrimination and marginalization, it has been attacked, experiencing vandalism and even destruction to building. We are living through a particular time when our churches have to be attentive to security and to ensuring the safety of all who come.
“The National Setting is providing these resources to ensure our congregations are better equipped as they welcome all.”
‘Make love unavoidable’
Heywood says she feels people feel emboldened to do these kinds of things because of the current political climate.
“It’s an addiction,” she explained. “These people are addicted to their feeling of superiority, and people in political office are using their anxiety and bigotry to encourage these kinds of incidents.”
Heywood said she hopes to help “make love unavoidable,” and encourages other churches to find ways to express that love is greater than hate in their own ways. She is asking her own community members to draw hearts on sidewalks where hateful things have happened, take a photo of it and submit it to her for a larger artwork.
“Churches don’t have to be perfect, we often fear if we speak up we’ll lose members — and that may be so, but others will come to us and stay too.”
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