Update: The First Congregational Church’s ‘Black Lives Matter banner has been stolen, Reverend Kevin Brown told the Reporter. None of the church staff removed it.
A Bellevue church is standing their ground after a banner they hung in support of the African-American community was defaced last week.
A Black Lives Matter sign at First Congregational Church on 108th Avenue Northeast was vandalized by an unknown person or persons early last week.
The word “black” on the banner was crossed out with spray paint and replaced with the word “blue,” referencing a movement to support police officers formed in retaliation to Black Lives Matter.
But the First Congregational Church is leaving the graffiti-covered banner up to encourage a discussion in the community.
The act was carried out sometime on Feb. 14 or 15, and was discovered by church employees the following morning.
Although the church’s congregation is largely Caucasian, church leaders hung the banner to recognize institutionalized racism.
“We understand that the Christian church has been complicit in institutional racism … We feel that we need to, particularly during this time of Lent, confess in our own complicity,” said Reverend Kevin Brown, who grew up in the south and saw firsthand the links between the church and Jim Crow laws.
Bellevue Police officers responded to the vandalism, and told the Reporter that they do not condone the suspect’s actions.
“Their pastor reached out directly to us, and Sector Captain Carl Kleinknecht went to the church in person to see if there was anything we could do. We don’t condone vandalism in any way and we’re committed to work with the church in any way possible,” police spokesperson Seth Tyler said.
Since it was put up four months ago, the Black Lives Matter banner has drawn criticism and praise from the community.
Members of the public have spoken out against the sign, Brown said.
“It’s a disappointment. When we put the banner up, we got some negative response — the typical ‘all lives matter,’ ‘you should be ashamed,’ but we’ve also had some positive responses. We’ve had several calls from people who had seen it defaced and were sorry to see that,” he said.
It is not the first time that the church has been vandalized for their stances on social issues.
A longstanding rainbow LGBT banner on the church exterior facing Northeast Eighth Street has been defaced several times in the past, Brown said.
Although police recommended they remove the banners to prevent future damage from occurring, the church has replaced them without a second thought.
“The cost is minimal when one considers 200, 300 years of supporting institutions that have engendered racism, so we said ‘it’s just money,'” Brown said.
That is a stance they are taking once again and will continue when they move locations next month.
The vandalism came one week after citizens gathered at Bellevue City Hall to a community art piece consisting of swatches of fabric with individual pledges to end racism.
Mayor John Stokes joined participants of all ages in creating the piece, which was organized by the Eastside Race and Leadership Coalition.
The piece started in Redmond after someone left a white-hooded robe similar to those worn by members of the Ku Klux Klan at an African-American businesswoman’s store earlier this month.
The church expects their replacement sign to be hung within the coming week.