Hope Presbyterian Church leaders and members were shocked to see the signs had been vandalised within hours of being installed. (Screen captures via NBC Chicago)
A church community in a northern Illinois town was left devastated after signs signalling support of the LGBT+ community, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement, were burned down, ripped apart and stolen by vandals in less than 24 hours.
The August shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man based in Wisconsin, by a white officer juddered a nation already in reckoning on topics of systemic racism and police brutality.
But it appeared that signs buttressed by Hope Presbyterian Church leaders and its 128 members in support of Blake needled the townsfolk of Wheaton, a vastly white and conservative suburb.
On Monday (August 31), Pastor Jay Moses, who leads a white-majority congregation, arrived to find a sign with Blake’s name gone, another reading “Black dignity” torn in two and a third splashed with the Pride flag burned to the ground.
“My community is heartbroken and shocked,” Moses told the Daily Herald newspaper Tuesday (September 1).
“They are shocked that anybody in Wheaton would do this, and they are heartbroken because they realise what it signifies.
“It really felt like the burning cross. It felt like the [Ku Klux] Klan had been there almost.”
This is no isolated incident, Moses warned. He said that a board blaring his church’s support for the Black community after the killing of George Floyd was similarly vandalised.
“We have stepped out as a white church in support of Black dignity,” he said.
Hope Presbyterian shares the church property off Wiesbrook Road with a mostly Black congregation, Bethel New Life, led by pastor Keith Beauchamp.
Wheaton, dotted with many churches, is a predominately white (85 per cent) and Republican town. Many of Bethel New Life’s members once travelled in from neighbouring suburbs to attend sermons, which have since shifted online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“What is the community going to be like when we arrive back here?” asked Beauchamp, stressing that Hope Presbyterian’s displays of support are “courageous”.
“But it doesn’t mean that people always appreciate your courage, we celebrated [together] the moment when it was put up and cried when it was torn down because we know what that means.”