The Rev. Rick Sosbe, senior pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer in Augusta, answers calls at the front door of his church Tuesday after it was spray-painted with graffiti that refers to Bible verses.
“Burn Leviticus 18:22 Lies” was painted across the double front doors of the Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer on 557 Greene St. On the front steps was another passage, Leviticus 18:20, with the words “You’ll Burn.”
The vandalism comes almost three weeks after a rainbow flag had been stolen from the front of the church.
The church’s pastor, Rick Sosbe, said a church member texted him a picture of the vandalism as he was preparing to go to the church for his regular office duties.
“I was angry. I was very sad and I thought, ‘Just why?’ To me, it seems so interesting that they’re saying on there that you’ll burn – in other words saying ‘You’ll burn in hell,’ I’m sure – and quoting scripture. Is that what Christianity – right-wing, fundamentalist Christianity – has come to?” he said.
Sosbe and his partner, Michael Rehn, got married June 30, four days after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in all states.
He believes Tuesday’s vandalism and the flag incident are a reaction to his and the church’s increased presence in the media because of the legalization of marriage equality.
“We’ve occupied this building for 12 years, and this is the first (time) something’s happened,” he said.
Sosbe said he plans to discuss buying some security cameras with the church’s board within the next couple of days.
According to an incident report from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, damages were estimated at $2,500. Deputies could not lift any fingerprints from the dried paint.
The church does plan to prosecute.
Public Information Officer Lt. Allan Rollins said officers will keep a closer lookout for strange activity because there have been a couple of incidents at the church. He also said that even though it seems the crime is based in “dislike,” it’s difficult to classify it as a hate crime until a suspect is caught and questioned.
Sosbe said that at the advice of the sheriff’s deputy, he planned to check with neighbors to see if their security cameras recorded the vandalism.
He also said the church will continue to spread its message of God’s love.
Sosbe said that the exposure the church has gotten lately has let more people know about its existence.
He recalled a phone call after the flag incident, when a man asked to discuss the issue of Christianity and gays. They had a long discussion that “restored my faith in humankind,” he said.
He said it reminded him of the story of Joseph, whose brothers sold him into slavery, but he rose to become a powerful man in Egypt.
“Joseph said to his brothers, ‘What you intended for harm, God turned around for good.’ If it weren’t for that flag, that man would never have known we were here,” he said.
On Tuesday evening, about 50 members of the church, Augusta Pride and supporters of the LGBT community held a rally on the church steps as a show of solidarity.
Inside, Lonzo Smith, vice president of Augusta Pride, spoke about the need for hate crime legislation in Georgia, one of the few states without any.
“(Tolerance) means you are accepting something that you find offensive, so I will no longer use the word ‘tolerance’ in my vocabulary. I do not want to be tolerated. I want to be liberated. I want to be accepted,” he said.
Takya Browning, president of Augusta Pride, said when she learned of the vandalism, she was hurt, sad and angry, but said she believes it points to something bigger.
“Just because we had marriage equality come down does not mean that everything is roses and rainbows,” Browning said.
“It means the real work begins and this is a sign of work happening. If we weren’t here making a difference, nobody would bother those doors.”
• Leviticus 18:22 (King James Version) reads “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.
• Leviticus 18:20 (King James Version) reads “Moreover thou shalt not lie carnally with they neighbor’s wife, to defile thyself with her.”