UPDATED: Mars Hill Church Vandalized, "Gay Rights Group" Claims Responsibility, Community Members Respond
By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly
A controversial SE Portland place of worship was vandalized early this morning â€” and a "gay rights group" claims that they perpetrated the destruction. Mars Hill Church Portland posted the following information to their Facebook page today at 12:05 PM:
At 3:30 am this morning, April 24, one of our pastors received a call from the Portland Police Department that vandalism had occurred at the Mars Hill Church Portland location. Upon arriving at the church, we discovered nine separate windows had been smashed in with rocks, including two beautiful 100-year-old stained glass windows. We estimate the damage to be several thousand dollars. Neighbors of the church reported seeing several young adults in black masks throwing large rocks into the windows. Police stated that a bank in the area was also vandalized in the same way and that they believe the vandalism was planned ahead of time, most likely by an activist group. However, we have been notified by KPTV FOX 12 that an email was sent to them from a gay rights group claiming responsibility for the vandalism. This certainly saddens us greatly as our pastors in Portland have made many efforts to build relationships with the homosexual community in Portland. Even though they chose to destroy our property and scare away people trying to worship Jesus, we wish them no harm. We know that many leaders in the gay community that we speak with regularly would be appalled at this kind of violent and destructive behavior. We love Jesus, and we love people. Broken glass and angry vandals aren't going to stop us from preaching about Jesus, so please come join us this Sunday for either the 9 am or 11:15 am services.
PQ invited community members to respond to the vandalism with their thoughts and reactions: "I'm a firm believer in the freedom of every individual to practice whatever form of spirituality they deem appropriate. For me, it's always been a personal thing. While I do have beef with the actions that organized religions have taken historically, in general (oppression, persecution, war, torture, etc.), and am not the biggest fan, I never see violence as a response to just about anything. We're not going to increase peace and understanding with any kind of destruction or vandalism, especially smashing 100-year old pieces of art... Why this church? What was the motivation? It just seems misguided." â€” Rob Smith, NE Portland "This is very sad news, indeed, for everyone. For those of us in the neighborhood who have loved those 100 year old windows, for those who worship in that church and for those who felt the only way they could be heard was to commit an act of violence. My hope is that this could be used as a opportunity for dialogue and a chance to create understanding." â€” The Reverend Gwen Barnard, the Church of Scientology of Portland "I think vandalism of any sort is not a proper form of protest, and just creates larger gaps in our community. There is nothing constructive about what happen at Mars Hill, it appears to have been a hate crime. In my opinion hate is a two way street... attacking that church is similar to attacking the Q Center or Pivot - except people dont seem to express as much outrage when a church is vandalized. Whoever did this seems more focused on burning bridges that uplifting our community. In short, it saddens me immensely, especially if a "gay rights group" is claiming responsibility... We formed Q Patrol to protect the LGBTQ community, but what kind of example is set when a gay group claims responsibility for attacking a church? Who is going to protect them? We should all be working together to better Portland, not to divide it." â€” Samuel Thomas, SW Portland "We support the action and stand in total solidarity! Mars Hill has not been trying to build relations with our community. Comparing homosexuality to cancer is not building relations!" â€” Members of Blow Pony and Homocult, who spoke with PQ Monthly under the condition that their names not be disclosed "I absolutely think any form of violence or destruction is counterproductive to the idea of equal rights. I grew up with Christian indoctrination from my friends and family, and struggled to reconcile that with my being gay all throughout my adolescence and early adulthood. Through all that, though, I've seen â€” to use a tired cliche â€” time and again that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. The people I know and love who've changed their minds about homosexuality and religion did so from being part of a dialogue about it, and from getting to know gay people who didn't condemn them for their religion. Yes, activism has to be bold, and visible, and often uncomfortable in order to get people's attention. And in no way do I think our community should be passive in the face of persecution â€” we have to stand up for ourselves and make people listen to us. But when that's taken to a place of hate â€” be it violence or vandalism or whatever â€” that's when people stop listening." â€” Andrew Edwards, NE Portland "Q Center does not condone violence of any kind. I have personally been working with Mars Hill Church since they came to town to establish a civil dialogue between our two groups alongside LGBTQ faith leaders and community members from the LGBTQ community as well as leaders and members from the Mars Hill/Evangelical community. I actually know these people. We have been meeting monthly to discuss our differences and work on finding common ground for the greater part of a year now. These sorts of vigilante attacks only undermine the inter-community work we are doing and, frankly, turn queers from the oppressed into the oppressor. I am embarrassed by whoever did this, and sincerely hope the queer community can continue to stay focused on changing hearts and minds rather than breaking windows. We have every right to be angry, given the history of hurt from the church, but violence is not the answer. If we want to be treated like human beings, we must not behave like animals. We are better than this. I just got off the phone with Pastor Tim Smith from Mars Hill, and our work together will continue as planned. If this vandalism was an effort to thwart these bridge building efforts, it failed. If it was an effort to raise awareness around LGBTQ equality, it failed. If it was an effort to make an eye-rolling media spectacle focused on the queer community, it succeeded...but I challenge those behind this action to really think about what exactly they did for our cause last night. Did you make things better? Are we safer today as a result? The answer to both questions is no." â€” Logan Lynn, Public Relations/Innovations Manager, Q Center "Mars Hill seems to be drawing a great deal of attention as of late. A quick search revealed that this isn't the first time this franchise has been attacked. And by Gay and Women's activists for that matter. It seems that there are some really angry people out there, and anonymously attacking an empty building does nothing for anyone in the long run. I'm sad that people can't put a real face to their frustrations and make a non violent statement. I understand their frustrations, and I share in their anger, but I choose to do something aside from throw stones... While I feel Christ is one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented people in history, 'let he without sin cast the first stone' still rings true. I could debate about what Sin is but that's not the point. There are far more effective ways to get your message across." â€” Piwacket Extraordinaire, SE Portland "I'm not a practicing Christian, but I do believe in respecting sacred places. I'm appalled that young adults can be more like children. It's upsetting for sure, and angers me quite a bit. I believe in shedding light and peace to people to prove a cause, so when I hear about others proving a cause with violence and anger and hate i look at them as no different than our U.S. government â€” which is, again, a bunch of kids." â€” Billy Walls, SE Portland We invite you to discuss these reactions â€” and share your own thoughts about this news â€” in this page's comments section. Keep checking PQ Monthly for further statements and updates about the Mars Hill Church vandalism as information becomes available. UPDATE, 4/24/12 2:39 PM: PQ staff writer Erin Rook noted on the PQ Monthly Facebook page at 2:33 PM that "it appears that 'gay rights group' was the church's word choice. According to FOX, the email was signed, 'Angry Queers.'" Pastor Tim Smith of Mars Hill Church Portland posted this personal response to the vandalism to the Mars Hill Church Portland Facebook Page at 2:36 PM:
Last night our church building was vandalized. A number of windows were broken including some very old stained glass. It's sad that some feel they must resort to vandalism to be heard but it doesn't change our message or our mission. It's still, always, all about Jesus for us. Our message is simple: Jesus saves sinners just like us. We are all in need of a savior and Jesus sacrificed himself for us before we even knew we needed help. Our mission is also simple: we don't impose Jesus on anyone but we want to propose him to anyone who will listen. We love Portland, we believe Jesus is great and we want everyone to know him. The good news is our church is off to a great start. We are growing and lives are being changed. We had a huge Easter, many were baptized and many are becoming Christians. A few piles of broken glass doesn't change anything for us. Be encouraged, stay on the message, keep on the mission and I'll see you this Sunday.
UPDATE, 4/24/12 3:06 PM In a story updated at 3:01 PM today, Fox 12 Oregon gives more information about the letter they received, which has so far not been released in full:
FOX 12 received an email from someone using the name "Angry Queers" who claimed responsibility for the vandalism and blasted the church's agenda. Mars Hill Church representatives said they hold "traditional Bible-based views on homosexuality." The email also targeted Portland's Q Center - a community center for Portland's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people - because Q Center representatives have been meeting with church officials. The Q Center wasn't aware of the vandalism until receiving a call from FOX 12 on Tuesday morning. Representative Logan Lynn said the Q Center doesn't condone the vandalism and doesn't condone any illegal activity of any kind to further a cause.
PQ staff writer Erin Rook has contacted both Fox 12 and the Portland Police Bureau's public information officers in an attempt to obtain a copy of the email FOX claims to have received. Updates to follow as information is received. UPDATE, 4/24/12 7:04 PM PQ staff writer Erin Rook has received and posted the full text of the email received by FOX 12 from "Angry Queers," the so-called "Gay Rights Group" that claims responsibility for the vandalism of Mars Hill Church. The email explains that the action was done "in memory of trans women who have been murdered by this cissexist, femmephobic, racist, transmisogynistic society." In the email, "Angry Queers" lash out at both Mars Hill Church for being "anti-gay anti-woman" and the Q Center for "prioritiz[ing] social peace and the bourgeois aspirations of rich white cis gay people over the more pressing survival needs of more marginalized queers." PQ Monthly has reached out to both the Q Center and Mars Hill Portland for response to the email. Logan Lynn, public relations/innovations manager for Q Center, confirmed that he had seen the email, but had no further comment on its content. Mars Hill Pastor Tim Smith has not yet responded to a request for comment. Updates to follow as further information and reactions are received. The community thoughts and reactions quoted in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of the post's author or of PQ Monthly.