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Maryland church, victim of hate crime, responds in love

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Erik Alsgaard

The painting of a swastika on St. Marks United Methodist Church is "a desecration of holy space," says the Rev. Timothy Warner, pastor.

Jan. 13, 2006

By Erik Alsgaard*

BOYDS, Md. (UMNS) — On a bright, warm Jan. 12, members of St. Marks United Methodist Church, church leaders, county officials and a candidate for governor of Maryland stood on the front steps of the church to see what Paul Hawkins had found there.

What he found has sent a chill through a community and brought people together to stand up to racism and hate crimes.

What Hawkins found was a swastika.

The Nazi symbol was spray-painted on the front door of the St. Marks church sometime on Jan. 10, in broad daylight. According to Florence Phillips, who has been a member of the church located in rural southwest Montgomery County for more than 60 years, she went for a walk by the church with her grandson around 1:30 that afternoon and the church doors were normal. Hawkins, a member of the community, reported the swastika later, around 4:30 p.m.

“It’s kind of a sad situation,” said Phillips, “but we will overcome.”

At a press conference held on the front steps of the church, with the swastika clearly seen on the front door, the Rev. Tim Warner, pastor of St. Marks, thanked the many church members, conference clergy and community leaders who had come to support his congregation and community.

“We consider this to be a desecration of holy space,” Warner said. He said that some people’s immediate reaction to the graffiti was to paint over it or hide it. Warner said no; what the church must do is “shine a light on it,” to show everyone that sin exists in the world.

Bishop John R. Schol, who spoke at the press conference, said Christians should not, and United Methodists will not, tolerate racism.

“We are not intimidated,” said the bishop, who leads the denomination’s Baltimore-Washington Conference. “We will not move; we are here to stay.”

The bishop urged all congregations in the conference to send a representative to St. Marks on Sunday, Jan. 15, to stand with the congregation during its 8 a.m. worship service, followed by church members and youth erasing the symbol at 9:45 a.m.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Erik Alsgaard

Bishop John Schol calls on Maryland religious leaders to preach that racism is a sin.

Schol called upon all pastors of the conference and religious leaders across Maryland to explain, teach and preach to their faith groups that racism is a sin and not to be tolerated.

He also had a word for parents.

“We need to teach our children and youth about racism,” he said. “We need to teach them how to relate and engage with one another, regardless of who they are or where they come from.”

For the Rev. Mark Derby, superintendent of the Washington West District, which includes St. Marks, this was a day for the church to show how disciples of Jesus Christ behave.

“If those who perpetrated this crime were to walk in the front door of this church, they’d be received in the love of Jesus Christ,” he said. “We stand with the church and affirm its ministry to the congregation, neighbors and community.”

In addition to the swastika spray-painted on St. Marks’ front doors, the nearby Boyds Negro School also was targeted. Other hate symbols were painted the same day on two schools in Montgomery County and one other African-American church.

Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, a candidate for governor, also spoke at the press conference.

“We are sadly gathered here today,” he said. “We will not stand idly by in the midst of hate mongers.”

Duncan said law enforcement officials do not consider these acts mere pranks.

“We consider these to be acts of hate, hurtful to the entire community,” he said. Whoever committed the crimes, if convicted, would be punished to the fullest extent of the law, according to Duncan and other speakers.

The crimes committed against St. Marks may be linked to a splinter group of the White Aryan Nation known as “W.A.R.,” or White Aryan Resistance, according to J. Thomas Manager, chief of police for Montgomery County. The three initials were found at the two schools amid the hate crimes. W.A.R., he said, spreads its hate through its Web site, and the tactics used in these hate crimes resemble what he called a “lone wolf type of tactic.”

“This group has a lot of history behind it, a lot of violence, a lot of connections. We don’t know yet if this is connected to them, but we’re concerned,” he said.

Manger said the recent hate crime activity in his jurisdiction — several Hanukkah displays in Gaithersburg and Rockville fell victim to hate crimes in late December — was a “spike we haven’t seen in a few years.” Last year, he said, 47 hate crimes were reported to police. The year before that, 40 were reported.

Following the press conference, the leaders marched from the church to the Negro School to examine the damage done to the building and the lawn.

Warner said he doesn’t know why anyone would do what they did to St. Marks, but he has an idea. In the last 18 months, under Warner’s leadership, the church has experienced growth in the community.

“This type of thing,” he said, “wasn’t happening when there were only two cars in the parking lot.”

*Alsgaard is the director of communications for the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

Related Articles

Five Md. Cases of Racist Graffiti Linked

Series Of Hate Crimes Committed In Montgomery County

Resources

Baltimore-Washington Conference

Racism (UMC.org theme page)

General Commission on Religion and Race