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Two United Church of Christ “God is Still Speaking” rainbow banners were found burning in an alley behind an LGBTQ-welcoming bar in St. Louis just before midnight June 3. Both almost certainly came from a theft at Kirkwood UCC, an Open and Affirming (“ONA”) congregation about 12 miles away, where a security camera recorded a young man cutting down and stealing two such banners at 10:55 p.m. that Monday.
While police investigate, the congregation is responding with courage and love.
A special message went up on the church’s sign board Thursday, June 6, next to the frame that held the banners: “God loves you if you are queer and even if you stole a banner from here.” Two members of the LGBTQ community who belong to Kirkwood UCC, Heather Arcovich and Barb Black, suggested the message, said Pastor Betsy Happel.
The congregation prayed for the thief in Sunday worship June 9. Happel will wear a stole she made from shredded remnants of the banner found on the church lawn after the theft. “This is a young person who is very troubled,” Happel said. “It’s a violent act to carry a banner to a specific place and burn it. There’s something troubled about this person’s soul. I have a lot of compassion for that. I wonder if it’s someone who’s wrestling with their own sexuality and doesn’t know what to do with it, especially in today’s environment. There’s a lot of brokenness in this world and a great deal of misunderstanding about the LGBTQ community, sexuality and gender identity. So we will pray for this person, and give it to God.”
The banners hung outside Kirkwood UCC for seven years without being defaced. The only opposition they attracted until now were occasional visitors who stopped to argue with Happel about LGBTQ openness.
– Written by Hans Holznagel
On Thursday will be the 75th anniversary of D-Day. A day on which President Roosevelt prayed for the success of Operation Overlord. The stated goal was to crush the Nazi regime. So praying to God in this situation must be a prayer against the enemies, right?
Absolutely not. Great people pray for all God’s children, never against any of them. The last paragraph of Roosevelt’s prayer sums it up nicely:
“With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil. Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.”
The operation was intended to overcome racism, to ensure peace, freedom and justice. But not even those were really requests, Roosevelt makes of God, but “Thy will be done”. Like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane the Allied Forces were offering blood, sweat, and tears. Nobody parachuted behind enemy lines or landed on the shore in order to get injured or killed. But they all accepted it the way Jesus accepted the fact that God’s will may just mean death on the cross. Jesus did not want to go to Golgotha: “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” The more than 160,000 Allied troops did not set out to kill their German counterparts. The goal was to make this world a better place. In times of epic injustice, that may require great sacrifice.
What courageous actions are you taking to overcome racism, to ensure peace, freedom and justice in our day and age?