WASHINGTON (AP) – Vandalism in four churches in downtown Washington following rallies in support of President Donald Trump exposes rifts among the faithful as the nation faces bitter political divisions following the election.
Among the damaged houses of worship were two historically black churches where people tore Black Lives Matter banners, with video posted on social media and one banner burned. Those defacements – those under investigation as possible hate crimes, police said – raised questions among some clergy and churchgoers as to why more fellow Christians were not speaking out against the incidents.
Reverend Dr. Ianther Mills, senior pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church, released a statement on Sunday comparing the burned banner to a burning cross, saying on Monday that she hopes more Evangelical Christians condemn the destruction.
Mills also underlined that she “did not want to make a political statement” and said her intention was to “move us all toward greater healing and greater dedication to building a beloved community where everyone is welcome.” The church is planning a Thursday prayer meeting to help promote unity and healing, she said.
The nearby Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church reported that vandals cut a banner printed with colors supporting LGBTQ rights and denounced “acts of hatred or violence” against others, Pastor Donna Claycomb Sokol said.
She added that the episode at her church was “incredibly insignificant compared to what happened to our neighbors,” and urged attention to be paid to the damage at Asbury and Metropolitan AME Church, both historically black institutions.
“People should denounce it and call it an act of racial violence,” said Claycomb Sokol. “People who have been very quick to keep quiet have to grapple with what really happened in our streets on Saturday, and how silence can actually be a sign of support and complicity.”
The breaking down of Black Lives Matter signs came after pro-Trump protests in the capital that attracted a significant number of Proud Boys, a neo-fascist group prone to violent encounters. The protests were intended to support the President’s claims about election irregularities, although the absence of widespread electoral fraud has been confirmed by a range of national officials, including Attorney General William Barr.
Washington police are seeking public help in identifying suspects in the defacements, with the FBI’s Washington field office also offering a reward to those who support the investigation.
Some members of the affected churches noted the contrast between the outspoken Christian response to property destruction during protests against racial injustice this summer and the relatively quiet backlash now.
“When evangelicals can speak on behalf of unborn babies, can speak on behalf of law and order when it comes to whites and white properties, but being silent when it comes to banners proclaiming ‘Black lives matter’, the moral silence is intoxicating,” said Cornell. William Brooks, former president of the NAACP and member of Metropolitan AME
“We’ve gone from saying ‘Black lives matter’ to now ‘Black churches matter,'” added Brooks, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School graduate program.
The Bishop of Washington, who was critical Trump during the summer’s protests against racial inequality after protesters were forcibly acquitted to visit to a fire-damaged church, released a statement Monday with the Dean of Washington National Cathedral denouncing recent church vandalism, as well as “the racist and religious overtones surrounding the attempt to discredit the presidential election.” A pro-Trump rally on Saturday headlined several religious conservatives.
Some pro-Trump conservative evangelicals criticized church hooliganism, describing it as part of a broader trend that marked a year of heightened political tensions.
Johnnie Moore, chair of The Congress of Christian Leaders and an evangelical adviser to the government, said that “we must let extremists on the far right and the far left know that these acts are now ending.”
Whether it’s synagogues in Portland, Los Angeles, or Kenosha, a Catholic shrine in Southern California, or historic – especially historically black – churches in Washington, DC – America’s places of worship should never be targeted in any form. of violent extremists, ”said Moore by email.
Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, an evangelical leader who advised Trump, said in a statement that “there is quite a difference between a movement driven by justice and justice, truth and love, and a movement driven by chaos, which attacks houses of worship like “a clear, unbridled representation of the true agenda behind many of these so-called ‘movements.’ ‘
While several leading evangelical conservatives have refrained from fully acknowledging Trump’s election loss, they have refrained from Echoing the harsh rhetoric the President directed against President-elect Joe Biden during the hard-won campaign.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said by email that “President Trump condemns violence in all forms and any group that proclaims hatred and bigotry.”
Cameron French, a transition official for Biden-Harris, said in a statement that places of worship are sacred places and protected under the law and “acts directed at these places because of their beliefs are unacceptable and undermine our work to establish a build a more perfect union. ”
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