After a St. Petersburg, Fla., church's roadside sign was vandalized, the congregation decided to dress up the homophobic message with pro-LGBTQ images.
Allendale United Methodist Church staff found Monday that someone had defaced the sign by spray-painting "gay pastor," reports NBC News.
Rather than cleaning up the graffiti, employees framed it with hearts, and adjacent to the spray-painted message, they posted "Love Always Wins!"
"An Allendale United Methodist Church sign urging people to vote ‘yes’ on Amendment 4 in November was targeted by a vandal, who spray-painted the words ‘gay pastor’ across it in large, black letters.
The sign now reads, 'Love always wins.'" #YesOn4 https://t.co/Q6grIxEuik
— ACLU of Florida (@ACLUFL) September 25, 2018
“Of course we were disappointed that someone chose to do that, but we saw this as an opportunity to turn what was intended to be hateful words into something beautiful,” Rev. Andy Oliver, Allendale's pastor, told NBC News. “We decided to leave the spray paint up because we wanted to surround it with love.”
Oliver has been vocally supportive of LGBTQ rights; he even has posed for photos at a Pride parade with Ben Weger, the church's transgender music leader. He doesn't identify as a member of the queer community, but about a fifth of his congregation does, he said.
“We officiate same-sex weddings here and regularly have gay and lesbian people preach,” the pastor said .“So often the harm that happens to LGBT people happens in invisible ways, so we wanted to keep this up to show love always wins."
— Allendale UMC (@AllendaleUMC) May 9, 2016
Church officials plan to keep the message up on their sign for a week or two.
Allendale was also attacked last month when a vandal threw a brick at the sign. In response, the church posted, "To our sign vandalizer: You are forgiven!"
— Jamel Lanee' (@WFLAJamel) July 6, 2018
"We’ve been a target because we are inclusive,” said Oliver, who added that his church has been a “change agent within our own denomination.”
The vandalized roadside sign has been used to promote progressive messages before. At the time it was defaced it read, “1.4 million can’t vote due to a prior felony. Vote yes on Amendment 4." The pastor says the church planned a few weeks earlier to advocate for the amendment, which would give convicted felons the right to vote in Florida, one of four states that denies that right.
We stand with @AllendaleUMC, a Reconciling Church, and Rev. Andy Oliver. The Allendale community responded to hate-motivated vandalism with the utmost grace.#UMCGC #GC2019 #FaithfullyLGBT #LoveWins #Christian #UnitedMethodist pic.twitter.com/5y6QkqxKY8
— RMNetwork (@rmnetwork) September 25, 2018
On the other side of the spray-painted sign, church employees have written, “Vandalism is a felony that shouldn’t take away your vote for life! Vote yes on Amendment 4.” The congregation intends to keep promoting the amendment until the November election.
The St. Petersburg Police Department is investigating the "gay pastor" defacement as "criminal mischief," an official told NBC News. Police have yet to make an arrest or identify a suspect.
Oliver hopes the vandalism brings attention to how much positivity the LGBTQ community has brought to his church.
“Being gay is a beautiful thing and a gift from God,” he said. “Our church has benefited greatly from having a diverse community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and allies.”