This past weekend someone spray-painted a swastika on the sign for St. James Episcopal Church in Bozeman. This is not the first time that someone has combined vandalism with hate speech. Some years ago an African American church in Great Falls was vandalized with racist slogans, and the Montana Synod office was also targeted. We did not let that incident go unchallenged, and we will not let this one, either. More widely publicized was a Billings attack on a Jewish family, by throwing a brick through a window with a menorah in it. The Billings response, orchestrated by then-MAC Director Margie MacDonald, was for the whole city to put menorahs in their windows, as an act of solidarity.
Painting a swastika on a church sign is vandalism. It is intended to provoke. It is hate speech. People of good will repudiate such an act and all that it implies. It shows disrespect to St. James Episcopal Church. And it shows contempt for the Jewish community, for whom the swastika was a death sentence. While historically (pre-Nazi) the swastika had different significance, there is no room for the swastika in a post-holocaust world.
When white supremacists threatened the town of Whitefish, city councils from around the state indicated their solidarity with Whitefish in their desire to be a safe and decent community, where diversity could flourish without threat.
A group of faith leaders in Montana have signed the following statement condemning the vandalism in Bozeman:
We, the undersigned faith community leaders, condemn the painting of a swastika on the sign of St. James Episcopal Church in Bozeman on September 9.
The swastika has become known as a symbol of hate, used by the Nazis to symbolize their commitment to white supremacy and the elimination of Jews and others they considered undesirable.
As leaders of Christian churches we believe that God has created all people in God’s own image. There is no room for white supremacy or racism of any kind.
Whether the swastika was painted as a statement or as a joke, it is inappropriate, and we repudiate it. As American citizens we value the First Amendment, and the freedom of expression. It is what gives us and everybody else the freedom to practice our religion.
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes: “Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate.” As faith leaders we stand with those who choose goodness over evil, love over hate.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA