Three United churches are keeping up their resolve to advocate for LGBTQ2S+ inclusion after their Pride flags were recently stolen or vandalized.
On March 24, a person ripped down the Pride flag at St. Luke’s United in Upper Tantallon, N.S., and then threw a large stone at the church door. The incident was part of a string of vandalism acts committed by the individual.
On March 26 or 27 — the date is under investigation —the Pride flag at Scarboro United in Calgary was damaged and inscribed with the word “repent.” Police are now calling the incident a hate crime.
Then, on March 30, the Pride flag was removed from First United in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.
The incidents come just weeks after Metropolitan United in Toronto was defaced with homophobic and anti-Semitic graffiti on March 4.
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For Rev. Rick Gunn, an openly gay minister at St. Luke’s United, the incident sparked initial concern for his safety, and that of his staffperson, but also the realization that his identity was under attack. “I’m an out gay minister. Everyone at the church knows that. So there I was reacting as one,” he says.
“Queer people who saw that are in their right to have a reaction to that,” he says. “They may have experiences in their bodies and their histories that stir up memories — that stir up trauma, fear and anger.”
On April 3, an anonymous hate letter was found in the church’s mailbox. “It was a manila envelope with six pages of cut-and-pasted Bible quotes — the usual ones that condemn homosexuality and immoral sexual acts,” Gunn says.
All three congregations are determined to continue to include and affirm LGBTQ2S+ people in the wake of the disturbing events.
“This work is not done,” Gunn says, adding that a church volunteer hung the flag back up as soon as police were finished with the crime scene.
Rev. Erin Klassen, the minister at Scarboro United, says that her congregation is replacing the desecrated banner. “Our attitude is, ‘We will keep on,’” she says, explaining that her sermon the morning the damaged flag was found addressed how the work of repentance led the congregation to become welcoming of all people.
“I think people are hurting right now, and they’re lashing out. We’re going to continue loving, particularly people who are marginalized and pushed to the edges. And we’re going to be really open about that,” Klassen says.
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Rev. Paul Douglas Walfall, the minister of First United, says that his congregation has a similar resolve. “Last Sunday, people were asking what happened. The overall response was ‘When is it [the flag] going back up?’”
Walfall speculates that the string of vandalism incidents is a sign of growing social intolerance, citing the freedom convoy in Ottawa and other parts of the country.
“I’d pose a challenge for the church. We are called not to be popular, but to be faithful to what we believe,” he says.
Moderator Rt. Rev. Richard Bott also raises that challenge. “I hope we respond by continuing to be steadfast, to be sturdy, in the work of being public, intentional and explicit,” he says. “I hope that we support each other’s communities of faith when these events happen, and the people more deeply affected — the people with whom we’re standing.”
Julie McGonegal is an associate editor at Broadview.
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