|Maryland church, victim of hate crime, responds in love
|A UMNS photo by Erik Alsgaard
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,
“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.
|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
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Five Md. Cases of Racist Graffiti Linked
Series Of Hate Crimes Committed In Montgomery County
Racism (UMC.org theme page)
General Commission on Religion and Race