After National Church Makes A Move On Marriage Equality, Presbyterian Congregations Receive Threats


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Last week, the Presbyterian Church (USA), or PC(USA), officially voted to fully embrace marriage equality as a denomination, a historic move celebrated by LGBT advocates and lay Presbyterians alike. But just a few days after the pivotal vote, four different Presbyterian churches in southeast Missouri received an unsigned letter condemning homosexuality and threatening to attack congregations that embrace same-sex marriage.

The letter, written in all capital letters and riddled with typos, opened by citing a passage from the biblical book Leviticus condemning same-gender sex. The author then issued a chilling warning to area churches who host same-sex weddings.

“People U (sic) had better turn around or your soles (sic) are going down…” the letter read, which was photographed by local news affiliate 12 KFVS. “Any church that accepts this [same-sex marriage], should be burned to the ground, any pastor who performs such marriage (sic) should be kicked out of the church forever. The above statement could happen to any church that performs this action … You have been warned churches.”

Rev. Kim Nelson, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Cape Girardeau, which received one of the letters, told ThinkProgress that local police and the FBI are investigating the incident to determine whether the letter constitutes a hate crime.

“Some people are intolerant of differences and social change,” he said. “[The letter] is surely not the biblical model of how we respect each other.”

Nelson, who moved from San Francisco to take a pulpit in Missouri, said he immediately reached out to the LGBT community at nearby Southeast Missouri State University after learning about the letter, and also made pastoral calls to congregants with LGBT family members. But despite the troubling rhetoric, Nelson said he remains concerned about the person who sent the letter, and hopes they can find a way alleviate their hate.

“I find myself praying for the person, and hoping we can discourse,” Nelson said. “I find myself concerned for them.”

The secretary for nearby Westminster Presbyterian Church, who withheld her name but was the first to open the letter at her church the day it was received, expressed similar compassion for its author, adding she wasn’t “fearful at all” because “God’s in control.”

Nelson said he met with pastors from the other three PC(USA) churches on Wednesday to discuss how to respond to the letter. Some of the ministers reportedly expressed concern that the incident happened so close to Palm Sunday, a Christian holy day when worshippers recount the biblical story of Jesus returning to Jerusalem. But Nelson pointed out that the tension created by the letter, while unsettling, closely resembles how scripture describes Jesus’ own experience.

“Jesus was parading [into Jerusalem] in the midst of a political as well as a religious situation that was, well, enormously stressful,” Nelson said.

Indeed, while the PC(USA) is one of a growing number of American faith groups embracing same-sex marriage and LGBT rights, the spiritual equality movement has triggered several violent responses from people who oppose the freedom to marry and LGBT people in general. Two weeks after Gene Robinson, the first openly-gay bishop ordained within the Episcopal Church, offered an invocation during the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009, Vermont state police arrested a man reportedly en route to take the cleric’s life.

“When [police] caught up to him, he had in his passenger’s seat, right next to him, he had MapQuest maps right to our house,” Robinson told NPR. “He had pictures of me and [my husband], and he had scrawled across them, ‘Save the church. Kill the bishop.’ And he had a sawed-off shotgun and tons of ammunition.”

In fact, threats of violence are an unsettlingly common experience for supporters of marriage equality. Shortly after North Carolina embraced same-sex marriage in 2014, the Buncombe Register of Deeds in Asheville — where local couples go to acquire marriage licenses — received bomb threats, as did the campus of nearby UNC Asheville. The first same-sex marriage in northern Mexico was also halted by a bomb threat, and marriage equality advocates regularly report receiving phone calls warning of violent retribution for their activism.


Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress