Mars Hill Church vandalism sparks LGBTQ community debate

By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly

A group identifying itself as "Angry Queers" claimed responsibility for throwing rocks at Mars Hill Church’s stained glass windows. Photo by Erin Rook, PQ Monthly

At 3 a.m. on April 24, vandals threw rocks at the windows of Portland’s controversial Mars Hill Church, breaking 100-year-old stained glass and reigniting smoldering tensions between Q Center and members of the LGBTQ community who don’t think it should be friendly with the anti-gay megachurch.

A group of self-identified “angry queers” took credit for the vandalism later that day via electronic messages sent to local media outlets including FOX12, KOIN, and Portland Indymedia. They attributed the action to the church’s teachings about homosexuality and gender roles, as well as the ongoing dialogue between the church and Q Center.

“Mars Hill is notoriously anti-gay and anti-woman. Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill’s head pastor, has said that women need to be subservient to their husbands and that gay people are a cancer,” the message said. It also criticized Q Center’s ongoing confidential conversation with church members, calling its representatives “disgusting traitors who prioritize social peace and the bourgeois aspirations of rich white cis[gender] gay people over the more pressing survival needs of more marginalized queers. Fuck dialog with people who want us dead, the only dialog we need with scum like Mars Hill is hammers through their windows.”

This isn’t the first time the church and Q Center have received threats. According to Executive Director Barbara McCullough-Jones, Q Center has received multiple threats of physical violence against the building and its staff. She declined to provide specific details about the threats, except to say that they have occurred both online and face-to-face.

“We choose to not give each incident air time in the media but are handling them internally,” McCullough-Jones said. “We work closely with the [Portland Police Bureau] and requested extra surveillance immediately following these events. In some respects we’re treating this like an open investigation believing it is not prudent to give details of most incidents.”

As soon as news of the Mars Hill vandalism and its alleged perpetrators broke, many LGBTQ community members — including Q Center — spoke out against the vandalism. A few applauded the action, while others took issue with what they called a knee-jerk reaction against vandalism as a tool of protest.

“Q Center does not condone violence of any kind,” said Logan Lynn, Q Center’s public relations and innovations manager. “These sorts of vigilante attacks only undermine the inter-community work we are doing and, frankly, turn queers from the oppressed into the oppressor. I am embarrassed by whoever did this, and sincerely hope the queer community can continue to stay focused on changing hearts and minds rather than breaking windows. We have every right to be angry, given the history of hurt from the church, but violence is not the answer.”

But some in the LGBTQ community don’t want Lynn, or the Q Center, speaking for them.

“Obviously the Q Center doesn’t agree with the group claiming responsibility for the mild property destruction the church sustained, so I understand the seeming need to clarify that. But to say that their opinions are aligned with those of the entire community is not true. If it were, people wouldn’t have felt the need to chuck rocks at the Mars Hill windows,” said Leigh Richards, a Portland resident who works in social services as a residential counselor.. “The idea that an oppressed group of people (queers) have the power to immediately turn into our oppressor’s oppressors is some basic nonsense.”

However, like Smith, some members of the LGBTQ community draw parallels between the two groups, calling the vandalism a hate crime.

“I think vandalism of any sort is not a proper form of protest, and just creates larger gaps in our community,” Samuel Thomas, one of the founding members of Q Patrol, told PQ Monthly. “There is nothing constructive about what happened at Mars Hill; it appears to have been a hate crime. In my opinion hate is a two way street. Attacking that church is similar to attacking the Q Center or Pivot — except people don’t seem to express as much outrage when a church is vandalized. Whoever did this seems more focused on burning bridges that uplifting our community.”

While it may be impossible for all parties to agree on the appropriateness of the vandals’ tactics, what about the message?

Mars Hill Portland head pastor Tim Smith says the church does not teach women to be subservient to men but that it does believe the Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin. Smith did not respond directly to the comparison between homosexuality and cancer when questioned.

The alleged vandals also took issue with Driscoll’s “crusades against ‘feminization’ of Jesus” and, by extension, the church’s contributions to a culture that treats trans women as “not worth keeping alive.”

When it comes to Jesus Christ, a simple Google search reveals Driscoll’s fondness for the expression “limp-wristed” when criticizing modern Christianity’ portrayal of Jesus. According to a 2009 piece in the New York Times Magazine, Driscoll has characterized this version of Jesus as “a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer” and a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture.”

Lynn, who spearheaded the ongoing confidential conversation between church members and representatives from the LGBTQ community, said he is well aware of the church’s position on homosexuality but he hopes that the dialogue will show the church that gay people are not “monsters.”

“I hope it makes the world safer for queer children being born into fundamentalist Christian families, just as I was many years ago,” Lynn said. In an appearance on OPB Radio’s “Think Out Loud,” he said the dialogue has been a challenging but ultimately healing experience.

Smith said that while he now considers Lynn a “caring compassionate” friend, he still considers homosexuality a sin.

“While my views on what the Bible teaches have not changed I have been deeply convicted of how of how I have self-righteously singled out those of the LGBT community as greater sinners more worthy of God’s judgment. This is wrong,” Smith said. “Also, as we have felt opposition, in both word and action from various groups, we come to a source of common ground with the LGBT community. We are experiencing, in a small way, the reality that many in the LGBT community constantly live in. It gives me another opportunity to empathize with our neighbors and changes the way I see many things.”

Despite the apparent sincerity of Smith’s sentiments, some are skeptical of the church’s motives. Mars Hill’s willingness to participate in discussions with Q Center could be interpreted as an example of “missional living” — a church practice that involves living among heathens in order to lead them to Jesus by pious example.

Driscoll advocates for this approach in a sermon published online.

“As a missionary, you will need to watch television shows and movies, listen to music, read books, peruse magazines, attend events, join organizations, surf websites, and befriend people that you might not like to better understand people whom Jesus loves,” Driscoll said. “For example, I often read magazines intended for teenage girls, not because I need to take tests to discover if I am compatible with my boyfriend or because I need leg-waxing tips, but because I want to see young women meet Jesus, so I want to understand them and their culture better.”

Is Mars Hill simply on a fact-finding mission among the queers to support its missionary efforts? Because the conversations between Q Center and the church are confidential, some contend it’s hard to say.

“I was, and continue to be, confused by the Q Center’s relationship with Mars Hill and the talks they are having,” said Mary McAllister, (aka Gaycation DJ Mr. Charming), whose question was read on air during the “Think Out Loud” segment. “How can the Q Center have closed conversations with a homophobic mega-church on behalf of the LGBTQ community when there is no accountability or transparency about what is being said, or possibly agreed to?”

Lynn said that until the discussion group collectively decides to go public, he is not at liberty to discuss anything but his own experience. Smith confirms this agreement.

“Both groups made a confidentiality agreement coming into the process, so I can’t really speak to [the outcomes of the conversation] specifically until the time when the group decides to report out on the experience,” Lynn said. “We aren’t there yet, as the work is ongoing.”

Only time will tell whether the effort bears any fruit, and who in the community will be interested in eating them.