Anti-gay vandals suspects in church arson

July 11, 2005 at 4:12 PM

CLEVELAND, July 11 (UPI) -- Anti-gay graffiti and a fire at a Virginia church may be linked to the United Church of Christ's recent vote affirming same-sex marriage.

St. John's Reformed UCC in Middlebrook in western Virginia was vandalized Friday with anti-gay graffiti and the church was set on fire, but the blaze did not spread, according to the Rev. John Deckenback, United Church of Christ Central Atlantic Conference minister.

Police and church leaders said the arson likely was because of a July 4 vote by the denomination's General Synod supporting same-sex marriage.

"The violation of sacred space is traumatic for a congregation, particularly with a message of hate targets a church's efforts to reach out in the spirit of Christ's love of all people," UCC President the Rev. John Thomas said in a release.

Thomas said he knew the same-sex marriage vote would be controversial but "it sadden me that, for a few, disagreement has moved to acts of violence."

Two other churches in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley were vandalized about the time the United Church of Christ ran television ads welcoming all people, including homosexuals.

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