GENEVA – A Geneva church that routinely puts up banners supporting the LGBTQ community and other minorities reported that its banner supporting marriage equality was vandalized and its rainbow flag stolen July 31.
The banner in front of the First Congregational Church of Geneva, at 231 Hamilton St., had stated, “Got Love?” and featured silhouettes of a heterosexual couple and two same-sex couples of two men and two women, said Lynnly Buchanan, chairwoman of the church’s properties board.
“They cut out the two women and the two men,” Buchanan, of Geneva, said, but left the heterosexual couple.
The church is Open and Affirming, which is the United Church of Christ's designation for congregations that make a public covenant of welcome to people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions, according to its website.
A rainbow flag and pole, which were attached to a bench that also proclaimed the church’s welcoming status, were also stolen, she said.
Buchanan said there seems to be a pattern of reaction to the church’s stance on marriage equality, as anonymous letters have been mailed and some actually posted on the church’s front doors.
“In the middle of a Sunday, where we have people coming into church, they are accosted by other people saying homosexuality is a sin,” Buchanan said. “So they would not be afraid to cut out the banner of homosexual people. Luckily, we have thick skin.”
Buchanan said vandals also steal and damage only the banners that contain references to gay people.
“Obviously, we are a church and our reaction is not anger or violence,” Buchanan said. “We understand that people have different opinions but they are not going to change our mind by cutting up our banner.”
The harassment feels personal, said Carolyn Fabian, who is leader of the church’s Mission Ministry.
“I’m gay,” Fabian said. “By them cutting those pictures out of the same-sex couples and being so precise to do that – it really feels personal. It’s amazing, after all of this time … we are back to the beginning.”
Fabian described another act of harassment, in which a man let his large dog off leash to defecate in the church’s courtyard, Fabian said.
The dog returned to the man, who replaced the leash and they walked away – but without him cleaning up after the dog, she said.
Fabian is in charge of making and hanging all the banners.
Right after news about the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016, Fabian used a banner to make a statement of inclusion.
Calling it “Love Thy Neighbor,” the banner listed all the neighbors Christians should love – those who are gay and straight, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, atheist, black, white, brown, homeless, rich, male and female.
On June 1, the "Love Thy Neighbor" banner was stolen, Fabian said.
She said this followed the theft, on April 6, of another banner, “When Jesus fed the 5,000, he didn’t ask if there were any gay people in the crowd."
On May 5, instead of a theft or vandalism, someone left a typed sign taped to the front door of the church, which stated, “Promoting the homosexual agenda, disguised as an act of love, is evil. Protect our children … protect our future. Stop the decline into degeneracy.”
The word “evil” was underlined in the message, Fabian noted.
The church has also had a Plexiglas cover to one of its stained glass windows broken; a basement window was broken out; and a break-in in which the perpetrators kicked in a door to an office, Fabian said.
Buchanan said the church will buy replacement banners for those that are stolen or vandalized in order to continue its support of being an open and welcoming church.
“We have gay members who are wonderful people and good Christians,” Buchanan said. “We need to keep playing along and keep doing what we are doing. Eventually, social justice becomes the norm. Black people are not slaves anymore, and women can vote. Eventually, right wins out; it just takes time.”