Battle Ground Community United Methodist Church has recently been hit with a string of vandalism, all directed at a banner bearing a rainbow which states the church is “A Welcoming Faith Community.”
The most recent vandalism was overnight Sunday. Pastor Susan Boegli said she received word at about 7 a.m., July 22 that the sign had been slashed.
That banner — technically two, facing back-to-back — had been up less than a week, as Boegli alongside a church congregant put up a replacement for a previously-stolen sign with similar content July 17.
Theft and response
Boegli gave some background on the issues the church was having with vandalism the week they put up the first set of replacement banners. She said about three months ago the original banner was slashed and it appeared someone had tried to remove it but was unsuccessful. Members of the congregation repaired the banner and put it back in place, where it sat for a few months.
“Then about three weeks ago, maybe two weeks ago, it disappeared,” Boegli said during an interview with The Reflector July 17.
She said the church decided to put up a banner about two years ago promoting themselves as a “welcoming faith community” — the welcoming referred to accepting people of any sexual orientation, gender identity, race, and social status.
“We felt that the rainbow best symbolizes that invitation,” Boegli said. When the original one went up she admitted she didn’t think it would last six months given the content of their statement.
“The good news is that it lasted almost two years,” Boegli remarked.
Following the theft, Boegli said the congregation was able to raise more than anticipated through a fundraiser, allowing for the purchase of two sets of banners to be prepared should a similar theft occur. She leveled praise at the business that produced the new banners, Ink Ability in Battle Ground, both for their work and price. The pastor said it was a little over $400 after tax for the two sets.
Boegli said that following the theft the congregation prayed for the individual or individuals who stole the banner.
“Our brokenness isn’t shown in who we choose to love. Our brokenness is shown in who we choose to hate,” Boegli said. “This felt like a hateful act.”
Regarding the rationale behind taking the sign, Boegli said the theft was “a statement, but so is putting up our sign.”
Boegli said that after putting up the original banner she has seen more people drawn to the church than at any time in her years of ministry. Apart from those curious enough to walk through the church doors and see if the congregation lives up to its statement, Boegli said that the banner, visible from Northeast 199th Street, let it be known to motorists that there was a church in Battle Ground who supported individuals who might be excluded from other communities.
“That rainbow banner has been the best evangelism tool that I have ever seen,” Boegli remarked.
City affirms unity
Following the most recent vandalism, the pastor was more pointed in her remarks on what was happening.
“I feel like my community has been attacked. I feel like we’ve been violated,” she said.
Boegli said that whoever vandalized the banner the most recent time attempted to cut the rainbow out.
Boegli spoke with Battle Ground Mayor Mike Dalesandro shortly after she learned of the most recent vandalism. The mayor became aware of the earlier vandalism and June theft while attending a meeting of a local chapter of P-FLAG, an LGBT advocacy group, last week, he told The Reflector July 23.
“Disappointment isn’t a strong enough word,” Dalesandro remarked. He pointed to a proclamation made by city council in June affirming the city as welcoming to all individuals.
With the damage to the church’s banners, Dalesandro said it was a good time to refer back to that proclamation and what it means for the city.
“When something like this happens I feel like we need to take this opportunity to again speak out against it … but also to show solidarity with the church, to show solidarity with people that are affected by this,” Dalesandro said.
“These acts don’t define Battle Ground,” the mayor remarked.
Both Dalesandro and Boegli said that although damaging, the theft could backfire.
“The way I feel, it is like they are trying to silence us,” Boegli said. “But in fact, it’s given us this bullhorn … here we are sharing our message of love.”
‘Traditional Plan’ causes schism
The banner vandalism and theft follows a year that saw turmoil among congregants in the United Methodist Church. During the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference hosted in St. Louis, about 53 percent of the more than 800 delegates voted for what was known as the “Traditional Plan” — a set of rules that reiterates the church’s ban on same-sex marriage and “self-avowed practicing” LGBT clergy. The vote was the culmination of the four-day conference specifically focused on how the church would handle sexuality.
Boegli said that the division brought by the vote, which included delegates from countries where LGBT individuals were less accepted or outright criminalized, has led to an ideological division for her congregation and others that will likely come to a head at the next conference in 2020.
“The church is splitting,” Boegli remarked.
Though coming to the decision approved during the last conference was disheartening, Boegli said she was excited for what was to come with a potential offshoot of the UMC proper, forming around its ideas of inclusion.
“There’s a question … is this (theft) a response to what is happening in our denomination?” Boegli posited. “Whatever the reason,” she added, the perpetrators of the theft would not be shunned from the church should they wish to “be at the table.”
“We will continue to hold and love those people who are not able to fully love their neighbor,” she added.