In the last couple of years, the Seabold United Methodist Church has dealt with multiple incidents of its Pride flag being taken down from a sign that overlooks Highway 305.
“I have been concerned about the relevance of the church since the institutional discrimination of my personal denomination since it became obvious that the institutional denomination continues (in) some parts of the world and especially in the United States,” Pastor Cindy Roberts wrote in a statement. “These injustices have names like racism, discrimination, ableism, subjugation, oppression, Binary Authoritarianism, White Supremacy and on and on and on.
“I grew up believing my denomination were champions of working to correct societies ill. I began that work before I became an ordained United Methodist clergy person nearly 15 years ago. I never imagined that the hard work would need to take so much time and energy this far into my ministry.”
Roberts has been pastor at SUMC for two years and noted the incident that took place a couple of months back when the church’s donated Pride flag was stolen off of the sign overlooking Highway 305. The flag was replaced with a larger Philadelphia Pride flag, which includes black and brown stripes to represent people of color.
“The community noticed when the first flag was gone,” she said. “We received donations for a new flag and pole. We are considering a Peace Pole with those funds. Peace Poles originated in Hiroshima, Japan, and are now worldwide. It will be after the pandemic before we would follow up on that.”
In the most recent incident regarding the Pride flag being taken down on July 20, police responded to a reported theft at the church where an employee stated that a man removed the flag from the cross on the front lawn while stating he would take it down if it was put back up, the BIPD police report reads.
The church employee told police that she was sitting outside with two clients when a middle-aged man approached with the Pride flag in-hand. According to police, the employee said the suspect folded up the flag, placed it on the ground and told her, “if it gets put back up, I will take it down,” stating the flag was offensive to him. The gentleman was not from Bainbridge Island, Roberts said.
The church plans to file charges against the man, presumably malicious mischief, Roberts said. The church staff who encountered the man was a program ministry through KitsapAdvantage, Roberts added.
“The Seabold United Methodist Church is exceedingly grateful for staff at KitsapAdvantage for engaging with this person and (taking) back Seabold’s flag,” Roberts said. “The flag and poles have been put back in sleeves and duct-taped in as a reminder to whoever thinks it is that easy to subvert Seabold United Methodist Church’s mission and ministry is sadly mistaken. Filing charges might bring an opportunity for reconciliation with the perpetrator for justice for all. That is why charges must be filed.”
According to an open letter from Roberts to her congregation, Reconciling Ministries is the full-inclusion group supporting the denominational implementation of all. But currently, the denomination can discriminate by statutes of the church against LGBTQIA+ persons for ordination. Roberts also noted that there are regions of the church that enforce the statutes differently.
“Reconciling Ministries calls for recognition of all people of sacred worth, and we don’t care anything about sexual orientation other than the injustices that we ourselves have perpetuated,” Roberts wrote to her congregation.
Roberts said she did not see either incident but she did receive a phone call after the first incident and was accused of “condemning people to hell for preaching that it was OK to be gay.” She said the support from the Bainbridge community has been overwhelmingly positive following the incidents.
“There has been support for full inclusion of all people, and especially LGBTQIA+ people at all levels by the people of Bainbridge Island,” Roberts said. “People from other parts of our area have called to support us in our mission after seeing our Pride flag on the way to or from the ferry.”