By Rev. Ruth N. Marston-Bihl
Sometime in the middle of the night, someone took a rock and shattered the glass of our church sign. They removed the “or no” from “Mary got to say yes or no” and tossed the letters into the shards of broken glass for us to find Sunday morning.
I’ve taken a couple of weeks to sit with this news before I’ve put it up on the internet. We proudly shared the sign before it was broken for the whole world to see, but it takes some time to sit with broken things. Violence came to our church for the words from the bully pulpit of our church sign. Someone hated the words so much that they tried to destroy them.
Now you can tell me, “Oh, Pastor, it’s just a sign. Can it really be called violence? There is just a mess for you to clean up, but really who is hurt?”
Perhaps all the people who can get pregnant who drive by our sign who we tried to comfort. They now see the cruelty that people were willing to do to silence anyone speaking out to support them.
Perhaps the people who disagree, who see vindication in this act of violence, will be marginally more convicted that violence is an acceptable form of dialogue.
Perhaps all the people who worry that we are one stone away from being removed from society and those who already know how violence is used to silence those who don’t fit into the simple and oh-so-false narrative of what it means to be American.
Or maybe just our church.
Every American pastor has thought about the ease of entry on Sunday morning and American gun culture.
Although I cannot say causation with any surety, our front door was egged after our first sign about reproductive health. The second sign had a rock. Who is to say what will happen with the third?
My usher wouldn’t leave me alone in the building the first Sunday after the incident. The Sunday after that, a church member was surprised when they saw people they didn’t recognize going up to the balcony and wanted to let me know they were there. I have prayed for the safety of my congregation each Sunday morning since this happened. We are more aware of our vulnerability than before.
So yes, violence, because it has made my congregation feel less safe. I’m exhausted by living in a country that declares free speech and freedom of religion but refuses to do anything to help protect people peaceably exercising those freedoms.
The irony of all this is that until the sign gets fixed, the words will stay as they are. My poor trustee chair is probably tired of hearing me say this so often, but the first words she said when I told her what happened were, “I hope you put the ‘or no’ back!” So while we are reasonably worried about what happened, we’re also not planning on letting this be the end of utilizing our sign to start a conversation and provide comfort amid a fearful world.
“A well-behaved church seldom makes history,” said the chair of our social justice committee. Let’s hope we live up to each of those expectations.
Rev. Ruth N. Marston-Bihl serves as pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Seattle, Washington.