A nativity display at a California church that portrayed a gay couple was vandalized last weekend, and police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.
The nativity scene at Claremont United Methodist Church featured wooden light boxes with the silhouettes of three different couples holding hands. One was a man with a woman; another was a man with a man and the other, a woman with another woman. The three couples stood under the Star of Bethlehem and a sign that read, “Christ is Born.”
Claremont United Methodist Church has a tradition of displaying unusual nativity scenes during Christmas, aimed at carrying a social or political message, according to The Los Angeles Times. However, John Zachary, the artist of the scene, said that the displays have never been vandalized or defaced.
Church officials discovered that the two gay couples portrayed had been knocked down and the one straight couple was left standing on Christmas morning.
The incident happened Christmas Eve between 11 p.m. and 9 a.m. Christmas morning, according to police. No suspects have been identified.
The vandalism is classified as a hate crime because of the content of the artwork that was damaged and the fact that it was at a place of worship, according to Lt. Mike Ciszek of the Claremont police.
Pastor Dan Lewis believes the vandalism came from someone who was upset at the church’s interpretation of the Nativity, reports KTLA News.
“We don’t want to invoke hate or violence,” Lewis said.
The United Methodist Church, as a denomination, does not endorse same-sex marriage. However, some churches, including the Claremont congregation, have joined the Reconciling Ministries Network, which fights for LGBT equality within United Methodist churches.
Claremont United Methodist joined the Reconciling Ministries in 1993 and welcomes gay, lesbian and transgender members. According to Pastor Sharon J. Rhodes-Wickett, the display was put up to convey that message.
This particular church is known for displaying “unique” nativity scenes. One year, they depicted a homeless family, which led to many donations of food, clothing and money. Other years, they displayed a scene of war in the Middle East, a mother and baby in prison, and the portrayal of the U.S.-Mexico border fence.
Ed Kania is a 60-year-old openly gay member of the church. He calls the act disappointing because Claremont is considered to be a progressive college town.
“It’s a reminder that although there are pockets of acceptance, not everybody is accepting,” Kania told The Times. “We’re all kind of disappointed, but we’re using it as a rallying point.”
A vigil will be held tonight by church members and supporters from other religious groups.