LAST WEEK, a self-labeled group of "angry queers" broke nine windows at Portland's newest evangelical church, Mars Hill. But instead of widening the gap between Portland's large queer community and an institution that's called homosexuality "a cancer," the vandalism actually brought the two closer together—at least when it comes to speaking out about violent hate crimes.
Mars Hill Church—known for its controversial sermons railing against all things queer and even calling yoga "demonic"—set up shop in the heart of Southeast Portland last September ["Welcome to Mars," News, Sept 8, 2011]. Despite an initial fiery protest from queer advocates, the church seems to have successfully (and quietly) settled in with little backlash. Until now.
Early Tuesday, April 24, police notified the church that vandals had hurled rocks through nine of its windows—including a pair of century-old stained-glass panels—causing damage worth thousands of dollars. Following the incident, TV station KOIN received an email from a group calling itself "angry queers," 'fessing up to the crime and writing that their action was in response to the church being "notoriously anti-gay and anti-woman." The letter also targeted the Q Center, a local LGBTQ community center, for meeting with the church on a monthly basis to talk over their collective issues.
Logan Lynn, a Q Center staff member, was one of the first people who came to the church to clean up glass after the incident. "The work I do is to make the world a safer place for all queers," says Lynn, who has been working with Mars Hill Pastor Tim Smith for months to build a civil relationship. "So seeing something like this happen is frustrating and disappointing."
Smith says he was surprised by the vandalism, both because of the church's relationship with the Q Center and the lack of protesting since the fall.
But the crime hasn't dimmed his hopes of finding peace with the queer community.
"The actions of a few don't speak to the hearts of many," says Smith, casting the crime as a weak attempt to polarize the two communities. "I'm not letting my congregation demonize the LGBTQ community because of this."
"Historically, evangelical Christians and LGBTQ communities are tragically content with targeting baseless caricatures of one another," said Smith. "We're trying to negate that by meeting together and humanizing each other."
Sunnyside Neighborhood Association Chair Reuben Deumling agrees with Smith. "Ironically, this crime has only given the anonymous group a big black eye," says Deumling. Since the church moved into his neighborhood, Deumling says, it's been nothing but considerate to neighbors. "It's affirmed my belief that people who worship differently are still good people to work with."
However, local Reverend Chuck Currie—a liberal opponent of Mars Hill's morals—is unsure if the church will ever be completely welcome in progressive Portland. "It's good that they are meeting with the Q Center," says Currie. "But it's going to take a fundamental shift in their theology to make the gay and lesbian community comfortable with their presence."
Lynn, who acknowledges receiving some backlash from the queer community over his meetings with Smith, says this crime has only solidified his desire to work with Mars Hill. While Lynn admits that the meetings have been "incredibly difficult," he says that's all the more reason to continue nurturing the relationship.
"It's a radical experiment. Normally those people don't even talk to us," says Lynn. "But change happens."