Church's pride and Black Lives Matter flags stolen, burned
MIDDLETOWN -- Churches across the country have displayed flags that were stolen and burned. Now a Middletown church has faced the same backlash.
Church on Main officials said its pride and Black Lives Matter flags were torn down and found burned and tied to a street sign near Middletown High School.
Brent O'Neill said board members knew vandalism might occur when they chose to hang the flags, so he was not shocked when it happened.
“We felt it was important enough to make a public statement at that time,” he said. “It feels like this type of instance not only is targeted toward our faith community, but the communities those two flags represent. It's larger than just our faith community. I am sad, disheartened, but not entirely surprised.”
He said this is the fifth or sixth pride flag that has been torn down at the church since they started displaying it in June 2019. It started flying the Black Lives Matter flag in early January, prior to the George Floyd incident.
Surveillance footage from Aug. 12 at a 1:19 a.m. was given to the Middletown Transcript from the church. The seven-minute video shows a black vehicle pulling up in front of the church at 44 W. Main St. Sounds of people exiting the vehicle can be heard, presumably tearing down the flags over the course of the video. Once the people get back into the vehicle, it is seen traveling east on Main Street.
Due to the camera angle, the people cannot be seen.
O'Neill said a sign on the side of the building was damaged in the process.
Middletown police said they are investigating the incident. O'Neill said the church board would make a decision on whether to press charges once a suspect is identified.
Salina Brett, a preacher at Church on Main, said she was “mystified, offended and angry” when she heard about the vandalism.
“This is really a blatant racist, discriminatory hate crime,” she said. “As a transgender female, it offends me and makes me angry because it's a statement, not just to the church, but to me personally. It makes me feel like I am not welcome here.”
Brett will preach on Aug. 23 and will address the incident.
Stealing flags is not the only backlash the church has had due to the flags, O’Neill said. He said the church has received multiple phone calls and social media comments, denouncing its choice to fly the flags.
“We had a gentleman call us and say that Black Lives Matter supports killing police officers and that we should tear it down and he said that he would go to town council to get it removed,” O’Neill said. “The Church on Main does not support killing police officers.”
The pastoral intern even faced it personally.
“Last summer, I was walking into the church one day, and I was called a faggot from a car driving past,” he said.
O’Neill said no other churches have contacted the church or made any official statements condemning what occurred, but many individuals have. He said several people have donated money to install a security system.
The New Castle Presbytery shared the Church on Main’s initial public statement on their Facebook page.
Brett feels like this is not enough. She is frustrated the organization shared the statement with no additional comment.
She said she has contacted other churches in the area and peers in the LGBTQ community for support, but she hasn't had any responses.
"The decision to not say anything about this, makes me really upset. I cannot believe the local officials, and our local churches are just silent on this matter right now,” Brett said. “The silence is deafening.”