In December several attacks by the Proud Boys on black churches in Washington, D.C. plus a majority white church have forced Americans to reckon with threats by far-right groups.
The Proud Boys vandalized Asbury United Methodist Church, D.C.’s oldest historically black church, burning a Black Lives Matter banner and posting the video online. In a statement on Facebook Rev. Dr. Ianther M. Mills, senior pastor of Asbury, said “The sign burning was captured on Twitter. It pained me especially to see our name, Asbury, in flames. For me it was reminiscent of cross burnings.”
The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, another historically black D.C. church, was similarly targeted that same month and is now suing Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio for property damage. Tarrio admitted to the Washington Post that he had helped burn the banner and offered to turn himself in. He has since been arrested and charged for destruction of property as well as possession of illegal high-capacity magazines, but Tarrio insists that he did not commit a hate crime.
Judge Renee Raymond has since banned him from entering D.C. on the grounds that he is likely to commit more acts of vandalism. In response to the attack on Metropolitan AME, the Rev. William Lamar IV tweeted “We have not been distracted by signs, sounds, or fury for nearly two centuries. We worship. We liberate. We serve.” Luther Place Evangelical Lutheran Church, a mostly white liberal church, also suffered vandalism to its BLM signage.
Especially in light of the January 6 mob storming the capital, which included Proud Boys, some of whom were likely the same vandals attacking churches, the threat from these groups is likely not over. In both cases of vandalism the churches had Black Lives Matter signs up which many Christians are suspicious of due to the BLM group’s Leftism.
One of the founders of BLM, Patrisse Cullors, famously referred to herself as a “trained Marxist.” This term has always been misleading, however, because she meant that she had read books on Marxism, something many non-revolutionaries have done. In any case, the balancing act American Christians often feel is trying to care about and promote social justice without losing a Biblically rooted and theologically sound worldview.
As Chelsen Vicari writes, there is a well-founded fear of the Church abandoning a Christ-centered worldview for the sake of becoming purely a vehicle for a far-left vision of social justice. But even if many Christians feel dubious about the rhetoric of Black Lives Matter and similar organizations it should of course still be unacceptable when churches are attacked or otherwise vandalized.
Just like it’s a reprehensible attack on a person to smash their political signs, it’s also a violation of these churches to silence their expression by tearing down their signs. Just as it would be upsetting to see a church with a Right-wing slogan vandalized, it’s clearly wrong for either of these churches to be harassed like this. Especially for those within the sphere of orthodoxy, the rights of Christians and all people to express themselves and engage politically should be respected across the board.
How to support the churches victimized by these crimes is an open question, but one church already has their answer. In a show of solidarity with historically black churches that have come under attack recently, National City Christian Church (a Disciples of Christ congregation) has hung 16 foot BLM banners from their front edifice. “As followers of Jesus Christ, we reject the president’s call to violence and continue to proclaim that Black Lives Matter,” Interim Senior Minister, the Rev. Dr. Amy Butler said when she announced the banners would be going up. “We oppose the ideals of white supremacy and white Christian nationalism, and declare that our church will continue to be a place of peace and healing,” National City Christian Church said in their statement.
Both Asbury United Methodist and Metropolitan AME have replaced their signs as well, in a sign that they will not be deterred. As Asbury said in an official statement: “We call upon all to join us in prayer for our community, church, and the people who are responsible for this hateful behavior. We believe this is a wakeup call for all to be more vigilant and committed to anti-racism and building a beloved community, and we invite you to join us. Our congregation will continue to stand steadfast—’we will not be moved.’”
Christians in countries like China or Egypt are familiar with their houses of worship being attacked for political reasons. But, even in America, although by no means comparable, there are churches, minority and white, facing vandalism and worse at the hands of extremists, both Left and Right wing. How we respond to attacks on churches across the political spectrum will define how faithful our ecumenism will be.