By: Clare Bruce
Two Melbourne pastors have responded with grace, after their churches were vandalised in one weekend with threatening graffiti and ‘Vote Yes’ messages.
Waverley Baptist Church in Melbourne’s east was attacked on the weekend of October 16, with the sayings ‘Crucify No voters’ and ‘Vote Yes’ tagged on its dark grey walls in large white letters.
A few blocks away, Glen Waverley Anglican Church (GWAC) was hit in the same way, with Sunday morning churchgoers arriving to the phrases “vote yes” and “bash bigots” emblazoned on their church walls—an unsettling message to those voting ‘no’ in the Marriage Law Postal Survey.
Rather than react in anger, the pastors of both churches responded with messages of peace and reconciliation.
A Call for Peaceful, Gracious Responses
They resisted being alarmist, and refused to characterise the ‘Yes’ Campaign as hateful by nature—instead saying the graffiti was almost definitely the work of a rogue individual rather than any organised group.
“I refuse to believe that the orchestrators of this vandalism are at all reflective of the common everyday “Yes” voters in the current public survey being conducted about same sex marriage” wrote GWAC Pastor Drew Mellor in a Facebook message to his congregation.
Waverley Baptist’s pastor, Reverend David O’Brien said that in one sense it was hard to take the graffiti seriously: “Does this person really know what crucifixion actually means?” he said.
He and his church viewed the graffiti as a one-off occurrence.
“We took it as a vitriolic outburst of somebody who obviously feels very deeply about these things. There were no other threats, no phone calls or messages, or anything like that. We took it as very much a one-off incident and proceeded to clean it off.”
Rev O’Brien said some members of his church who had chosen to hand out pamphlets for the Marriage Alliance’s ‘No’ campaign, were having very positive, friendly conversations with people—including ‘Yes’ voters.
“I was speaking to someone on Sunday who said ‘most of the response, even from ‘Yes’ voters have been very polite, and very courteous, even in disagreement’,” he said.
Speaking in church the Sunday after the graffiti incident, Pastor O’Brien encouraged his congregation to continue to treat others with love and grace.
“I made a statement that echoed what I’d said in the newspapers—that we regret this, we were going to keep loving people no matter what their background or their stance because we’re trying to follow Jesus, and do what Jesus would do, and we’re not going to let this get in the way, either of our beliefs about what is right and wrong or of loving people no matter where they are, where they stand or what they’re doing in life,” he said.
Forgiveness and Love the Best Remedies
Asked what his best advice was for anyone confronted by hatred and hostility, Mr O’Brien encouraged forgiveness and peace.
“Our fundamental motto comes from the scriptures, ‘Overcome evil with good’, and ‘Love your enemies’,” he said. “So certainly we would encourage people not to respond in kind. We encourage assertion, not aggression. We would encourage people to stand up and say ‘Hang on a minute that’s not the way we should be conducting this’… but most of our people, I think, would simply walk away from any violent confrontations.”
Mr O’Brien that communicating traditional views in the current social climate is very hard to do, and that the best approach was to find ways to love people regardless of their views.
“There has been a real shift in thinking in our community in many peoples’ minds so that sexuality is now equated to identity, and if we question certain sexual behaviours people respond as though we are slighting their identity,” he said.
“Homophobia has been a sin in our church, and we as a church repent of such an ungodly attitude.” ~ from a statement made by Anglican Pastor Drew Mellor
“I just believe we need to encourage each other not to make quick assumptions of people, simply to ask God to give us the opportunity to love them, care for them, show them what true love and care really means, in whatever practical way, we just don’t let sexuality enter into that, unless its pushed into our face. However we will try always to simply reach out to people and follow our lord and saviour the best way we can.”
Pastor Mellor at GWAC has encouraged his congregation with a Bible verse from the book of Romans: “Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honourable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
Dear friends, never take revenge.”
‘Listen to Peoples’ Stories, Seek to Understand’
Both the Melbourne pastors take traditional views of marriage as being between a man and a woman, but neither are instructing their church members in how to vote in the Marriage Postal Survey.
Pastor Mellor has said in a pastoral statement, that “while we, as a church, uphold a traditional belief in marriage, we will not exclude those who may have arrived at a different view on this matter.” His statement welcomes and values those who may identify as gay, and acknowledges that a traditional view of marriage imposes “a costly call for those who are same-sex attracted”.
He also concedes “that homophobia has been a sin in our church, and we as a church repent of such an ungodly attitude”.
Pastor Mellor said he was concerned to see Yes campaigners painting No voters as people who are opposed to equality: “The current discussion in our community is much more nuanced than that,” he said. But he also called his church to “thoughtful, respectful, relational behaviour”, to listen to people and their stories of pain, and to strive to understand the LGBTI community better.
“Now is a time for the Church to realise that uncharitable, unloving and ungodly attitudes and behaviour of the past has caused great hurt for many in our community,” he wrote, “and it’s a hard ask to expect those most deeply affected to trust the motives and intentions of Christians.”
The Yes Voter Defending the Churches
Meanwhile, Melbourne social justice worker Daniel Christiansz, who is a former member of both Waverley Baptist and GWAC, has spoken out in defense of the two churches.
Daniel, who takes a more liberal view towards homosexuality, has said that in these churches it was the teachings of Jesus that helped to “shatter his homophobia”.