BEAN BLOSSOM, Ind - Members of a Brown County church that was tagged with anti-gay graffiti over the weekend say they will not paint over or wash off the hurtful messages and symbols for several weeks.
Reverand Kelsey Hutto she and the members of St. David’s Episcopal Church want to turn the hateful message of the graffiti into a message of love and acceptance by allowing the community to see it on their walls.
“We could be angry, we could be embarrassed, we could be hurt,” Hutto said. “But the fact of the matter is those are on our walls because we’re doing the right thing. And we choose to look at them as symbols of hope.”
The spray painted graffiti was discovered early Sunday morning. The tagging included a swastika, the phrase “Heil Trump,” and an anti-gay slur. Hutto believes her church was targeted because the Episcopal church recognizes same-sex marriage. She says the graffiti proves the church is succeeding in its mission of acceptance and inclusiveness.
“This was meant to cause divisiveness, this was meant to cause hatred,” Hutto said. “And we’re not falling into that trap. We’re responding with love and we’re going to use those images as images of hope.”
Hutto believes leaving the graffiti up for several weeks will allow members of the community to recognize why the church was targeted. The symbols of hate could be transformed into a beacon for those searching for a welcoming place to worship, she said.
“If anybody in the surrounding area feels like they need a safe haven, we are that place,” Hutto said. “And if it takes somebody tagging our church for that to happen, then we’re okay with that.”
Hutto also believes the graffiti can be repurposed into a message of forgiveness, even for whoever spray painted it onto the church.
“We forgive you,” Hutto said. “And if you come into the church tomorrow, we will love you as a child of God. And that’s who we are. I’m sorry that you felt it was necessary to do this.”
Leaders from other area churches came to St. David’s Monday to offer support and prayer.
New Life Community Church does not recognize same-sex marriage, but the church’s associate pastor, Cory Joy, said God’s love surpasses different beliefs among different churches.
“No matter what our differences are, no matter if I agree or disagree with how you carry your life or what you do with your life, I’m still called to love you,” Joy said.
Joy also hopes the graffiti will serve another useful purpose.
“My hope is that there are parents that are going to use this as teaching opportunities with their kids to say hate is not okay,” Joy said.
The graffiti on the church appeared just a couple days after hateful graffiti showed up along Bloomington’s B-Line Trail, and coincides with an increase in hate crimes across the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, which tracks reports of hate crimes, has recorded about 200 complaints of racial or religious hate crimes since last week’s election.
Indiana State Police are urging Hoosiers to report hate crime cases to authorities because the information is forwarded to the FBI and other Federal agencies that track all hate crimes.
“Some of these hate groups, they may travel from state to state,” said Indiana State Police Trooper Nick Klingkammer. “And being at the federal level, they can cross those state boundaries and enforce that.”
Photos and other forensic evidence can often prove useful in investigations that span several years and cross several state lines, Klingkammer said.
Members of St. David’s Episcopal Church plan to leave the graffiti on their walls through the end of November. A public, community clean up day is being planned for early December. An exact time and day has not been decided on, but the church was expecting supporters from across Indiana to attend the event.