An Arizona pastor is calling for prayers after a man reportedly stormed into his office screaming a series of homophobic epithets, citing Donald Trump’s win as inspiration.
Police told local news station KPHO that the man, who has not been identified, was angered by a rainbow flag displayed outside the Community Christian Church in Tempe when he visited the church’s office to express his disgust. Pastor Doug Bland, who was on a conference call at the time, described the Dec. 7 incident in detail in a Facebook post, and praised his office administrator, Keeley Bruner, for handling the situation professionally. (Watch an ABC 15 report about the case above.)
“The man was using inflammatory, graphic language about gay people and his ‘righteous’ hatred for them. He threatened to pay people to protest in front of our church,” Bland wrote in the post. “He said that he was not above spreading lies about pedophilia.”
The pastor seemed most troubled by the fact that the stranger cited Trump’s surprising accession to the presidency as incentive for him to voice his anti-LGBTQ views at the church, which has always welcomed queer parishioners. “He told Keeley that if Hillary [Clinton] had won he would have driven right on by,” Bland wrote, “but since Trump won he felt empowered to speak and act out because the country agrees with him.”
In response, the church has added a new banner that reads “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” a nod to Bruce Cockburn’s 1984 hit, beside the rainbow flag. Meanwhile, Bland’s original Facebook status is being used by members of his parish as a “prayer chain” to promote love and tolerance, according to the report.
Meanwhile, Tempe police told KPHO that while the incident was documented, no crime was committed. If the man returns, he could be cited with trespassing.
Still, the pastor told The Huffington Post that, ultimately, he and his congregation are viewing the incident as “a good wake-up call” and “a real opportunity to practice what we preach.”
“Personally, I am learning a lot about myself as a result of this incident,” he said. “When the incident happened, I asked people to pray for Keeley, our administrator, who took the brunt of this man’s bile. Second, I asked people to pray for our congregation, that we would respond with courage and love and continue to be safe place our LGBTQ friends and neighbors. Third, I asked people to pray for our nation that is so divided and polarized, and a democracy that is under threat.”
Noting that the response from the community has been “amazing,” he acknowledged some regrets too, adding, “I didn’t ask for prayers for this angry man filled with such poisonous hate. That can’t be an easy burden for a heart to carry… but, second, and most revealing to me as a cis, heterosexual man: I didn’t ask for prayers for LGBTQ friends, church members and total strangers, who have put up with this kind of hatred and prejudice on a regular basis all their lives.”
As alarming as the man’s reference to Trump was, Bland said he’d like the ultimate takeaway from the experience to be “less partisan and more spiritual.”
“It’s been a call for repentance, self-examination and conversion for me and for my community, “ he said. “I can’t help but believe that that deeper (and painful) process of self-reflection and conversion would be good medicine for our nation as well.”
It’s a troubling situation and an irrefutable act of hate, but we can’t think of a more wonderful way to move forward with love and acceptance.