Members of St. Marks United Methodist Church in Boyds, Md., church leaders, county officials and a candidate for governor of Maryland assembled on the front steps of the church on Thursday to stand up to racism and hate crimes after a Nazi symbol was spray-painted on the front door of the church sometime on Jan. 10, in broad daylight.
At a press conference held on the front steps of St. Marks church, with the swastika clearly seen on the front door, the Rev. Tim Warner, pastor of St. Marks, thanked the many church members, conference clergy and community leaders who had come to support his congregation and community.
"We consider this to be a desecration of holy space," said Warner, as reported by the United Methodist News Service. Though the church pastor said that some people's immediate reaction to the graffiti was to paint over it or hide it, his response was no.
What the church must do is "shine a light on it," he said, to show everyone that sin exists in the world. In addition to the swastika spray-painted on St. Marks' front doors, the nearby Boyds Negro School also was targeted.
Other hate symbols were painted the same day on two schools in Montgomery County and one other African-American church. The crimes may be linked to a splinter group of the White Aryan Nation known as "W.A.R.," or White Aryan Resistance, according to J. Thomas Manager, chief of police for Montgomery County.
Bishop John R. Schol, who spoke at Thursday's press conference, said Christians should not, and United Methodists will not, tolerate racism.
"We are not intimidated," said the bishop, who leads the denomination's Baltimore-Washington Conference. "We will not move; we are here to stay."
Schol urged all congregations in the conference to send a representative to St. Marks on Sunday, Jan. 15, to stand with the congregation during its 8 a.m. EST worship service, followed by church members and youth erasing the symbol at 9:45 a.m. EST.
"We need to teach our children and youth about racism," he said. "We need to teach them how to relate and engage with one another, regardless of who they are or where they come from."
For the Rev. Mark Derby, superintendent of the Washington West District, which includes St. Marks, Thursday was a day for the church to show how disciples of Jesus Christ behave.
"If those who perpetrated this crime were to walk in the front door of this church, they'd be received in the love of Jesus Christ," he said, according to UMNS. "We stand with the church and affirm its ministry to the congregation, neighbors and community."
Following the press conference, the leaders marched from the church to the Negro School to examine the damage done to the building and the lawn.
Wednesday's crimes were committed less than a week before the national holiday established in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Baptist minister and political activist most famous for leading the American civil rights movement and for his promotion of non-violence and racial equality.