Three Vineyard churches that conspicuously hang the LGBTQ pride flag have been tagged with homophobic decals in recent months, according to church leaders.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the Island Clergy Council decried what they described as “hate stickers,” and further condemned the defacement of an Israeli flag with a swastika and hate numerals that occurred just after Yom Kippur at the Falmouth Jewish Congregation. The Unitarian-Universalist Church was tagged “a month ago,” according to the Rev. Bill Clark. The United Methodist Church in the Oak Bluffs Campground was tagged twice, according to Pastor Hyuk Seonwoo — “around” Sept. 20 and “around” Oct. 8. The First Congregational Church in West Tisbury was tagged in mid-October, according to West Tisbury Police. Against a rainbow background, the decals read, “Whatever God calls ‘sin’ is nothing to be proud of. Isaiah 3:9,” Pastor Seonwoo said.
“This is unacceptable regardless of how one feels about homosexuality,” the Rev. Stephen Harding of Grace Church in Vineyard Haven said. “This is an act of hatred.” Pastor Harding’s church wasn’t tagged, but he told The Times he stands with his fellow council members. “Actions and words matter,” he said.
“It just reminded me there’s a lot of work we’ve yet to do about homophobia,” Clark told The Times. Clark said the decal wasn’t the first time a homophobic act was visited on his church.
“Two years ago we had our rainbow flag ripped down,” he said.
The community support the church received afterward was “wonderful,” he said, and he added that he and his flock were undaunted: “Of course we just bought a bigger flag.”
Rabbi Caryn Broitman of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center said there’s a climate of less tolerance afoot. “We teach that everybody is in the image of God — even when we don’t agree with each other,” she said. She also said words or acts against any one group do “affect everybody.”
“There’s so much goodwill and good feeling on the Island,” she said. “And we want to strengthen that. It only takes a very small group to put that off-balance.”
In its statement, the Island Clergy Council deplored what it perceived as an uptick in hate that may herald violence.
“We issue the following statement as leaders in the Martha’s Vineyard Faith Community in response to the recent rise in incidences of hateful words and acts against our neighbors, including people of color, immigrants, Jews, and the LGBTQ community,” the council wrote. “We speak in response to the recent desecration of the Israeli flag at the Falmouth Jewish Congregation in Falmouth, and in response to the anti-gay hate stickers that have been placed on several Island houses of worship that fly the rainbow flag: We state unequivocally that we and our various religious traditions are united against hatred and discrimination, and that we stand together in respecting the dignity of every human being. We make this statement in our current climate of rancor and divisiveness that many of us have not seen since the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. We are deeply concerned by the erosion of civility and the current trend that relegates those who disagree to a demonized other, one whose voice and opinions are not worth listening to. We are as concerned and more by the motivations and actions of those who have taken their ideology to the next step of doing harm to others through their speech or actions. We acknowledge that people, often religiously or ideologically motivated, may disagree and hold differing views concerning the beliefs and actions of others.”
Oak Bluffs Police are delving into the matter, according to Lt. Tim Williamson, who said he spoke with Pastor Seonwoo Wednesday morning, and expects to receive a copy of the decal shortly. Williamson said both incidents were reported to Oak Bluffs Police. He said he is unsure why further action wasn’t taken previously, but said a case was opened Wednesday. He also said he informed Seonwoo it’s an arrestable offense for someone to tag a church with any sticker, let alone one of the type described.
Clark said he did not inform Tisbury Police of the incident. Upon learning of the matter on Wednesday, Tisbury Police Chief Mark Saloio said he was dispatching an officer to investigate the matter.
West Tisbury Police have also launched an investigation. “We’re in contact with the church about the issue,” Police Chief Matt Mincone said. Mincone said the church did not reach out to police on the subject, but the police department contacted the church after after an inquiry on the subject by The Times. The Rev. Cathlin Baker did not return calls seeking comment.
Rabbi Broitman said a message the Vineyard should be reminded of, a message she finds uplifting each time she drives past it, can be found on the fence of the Tisbury School. It reads, “Unity.”