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Surprised by hate, soothed by love: Kansas City church gathers after homophobic vandalism

A young boy uses a small paint roller to roll green paint on a door that has a sign painted on it that reads "open." He is standing on a large lawn. There are six other signs lined up on either side of the green door. They follow in color from left to right: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. They read "God's doors are open to all."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Jude Switzer rolls on the last strokes of green paint Thursday on one of the doors that were vandalized overnight in front of Kansas City United Church of Christ. His uncle Scott Switzer lives nearby and noticed the vandalism early in the morning. He volunteered the paint from his family's business.

The Kansas City United Church of Christ in Brookside was visited by area politicians the Sunday after its LGBTQIA+ affirming artwork was vandalized. Members say they want people to know that the congregation will always stand up for the rights of others.

The Kansas City United Church of Christ in Brookside has always been an accepting community, according to longtime member Rick Truman.

Truman and his husband, Jerry Pope, who plays piano and organ for the church, became members when Pope was hired to do music at the congregation in 1999.

Three years prior, the church had officially voted to designate itself as Open and Affirming (ONA). The designation sets those congregations in the United Church of Christ apart as affirming the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ persons into the church and its ministry.

In the nearly 30 years since, Truman said he has never seen a hateful act like what happened overnight on July 6 when six rainbow-colored doors with the phrase, “God’s doors are open to all” painted on them were vandalized with the words “pervs” and “repentance.”

“I was amazed. I was appalled. I was disappointed, all those things,” Truman said about his reaction to the anti-gay vandalism. “More than anything, I was surprised by the fact that there are still people out there who hate, there are still people out there who don't believe that love of all people is the right way to live your life.”

But just a few hours after the discovery, community volunteers painted over the doors and restored them to their original form.

In an address to the church Sunday morning, Emilly Stott said Thursday, the day the artwork was found vandalized, was a “crazy, chaotic day.” But seeing the community overcome the hate with overwhelming support was uplifting, she said.

“But it was extremely soothing to see how much support we have from our neighbors from the very get-go,” Stott said. “It's been really cool, really overwhelming, to kind of field all of that. I think we've all kind of felt really special here this week.”

Missouri Sen. Greg Razer, a Kansas City Democrat, Mayor Quinton Lucas, and Jackson County legislative candidate Justice Horn attended the service.

Razer said this is the first Sunday service he’s attended since he was 18 – that’s when he left the small town and evangelical church he grew up in. The church preached hate towards him as a gay man, he said.

“As we move forward, we repaint that sign,” Razer said in an address to the church. “As we watch terrible things on the news, we can't let it harden our hearts. We can't become bitter. We can't allow them to take away from us what makes us special.”

Razer believes the doors were vandalized because of the growing intolerance of the far-right.

“I hope this is a wake-up call to the community,” Razer said. “We see on the far right of the political spectrum an emboldenness in embracing hatred, embracing intolerance, embracing violence. What we saw happen at this church this week was a sign of intimidation to tell them to stop loving, to stop caring about people.”

Lucas said that being a Kansas Citian means to be accepting of others, and that people have to prove that.

“All of us belong and all of us should be able to have every opportunity here that we can have anywhere else,” Lucas said to the congregation.

“So keep repainting when people show you the truth in our neighborhoods. Keep repainting when people's messages say that others don't belong. And more than anything, keep repainting when you know that there is someone out there in the world who needs to hear your love, who needs to hear from you that we care about you and we will welcome you.”

Truman said that although the hateful message painted on the church doors last week was shocking, it means that the congregation is a beacon of acceptance to the community.

When he first joined the church, Truman said the congregants used to joke that if the Westboro Baptist Church wasn’t protesting them, they weren’t accepting enough.

“In a very sad, weird kind of way, when our church was vandalized, it was, ‘OK, maybe we finally are doing something right,’” Truman said. “Maybe we are finally preaching our message out loud and proud enough that we are a place where all people are welcome to come. No matter what your background, no matter who you are as a person, you are welcome here.”

Ultimately, Truman wants people to know that the Brookside church will always be welcoming to all – especially when others resist that acceptance.

“I am so proud that this church says, ‘no matter who you are or where you are in life's journey, you are welcome here,’” Truman said. “It doesn't matter what baggage you have. It doesn't matter what your identity is. It doesn't matter what you can bring to the table. You are welcome. I'm so proud of that. And so glad to continue to help spread that message.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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