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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘On the border of terrorism’: Spokane Valley church’s Pride display vandalized with diesel

Preparing for her Sunday morning message didn’t go as planned this week for the Rev. Gen Heywood, who arrived at Veradale United Church of Christ to a strong odor of diesel fuel and the absence of the colorful pride flags that had graced the church’s entryway hours before.

It took Heywood a few hours to realize that “Lev 2013,” which she found drawn on the church’s lawn with the fuel, stood for Leviticus 20:13, a Bible verse often used to condemn gay people.

Vandalism directed at, or the theft of, the pride flags is something Heywood expected. The church hung the flags higher than previous banners to discourage “temptation,” Heywood said.

However, the diesel fuel message was both surprising and extremely concerning to Heywood and the 25 people who regularly attend services at Veradale.

“The Leviticus in diesel, that became on the border of terrorism,” Heywood said. “It was a threat, and it smelled like a threat.”

Veradale is an open and affirming church, with a large portion of its members in the LGBTQ+ community.

“Everybody is welcome,” Heywood said.

The church had three flags on display: a pride flag, one that read “Black Lives Matter” and another with a variety of sayings, including “Science is real” and “No Human is Illegal.”

The church also had a series of smaller pride flags along the sidewalk leading to its front door.

The vandalism was captured on a neighbor’s security cameras, Heywood said. A white car the size of a Nissan Leaf pulled up at about 1:15 a.m. Sunday . Three tall, skinny people ran out of the car toward the church and stole the flags before spraying the lawn with the fuel, Heywood said.

She reported the vandalism to the Spokane Valley Police Department, which is investigating. A department spokesman, Cpl. Mark Gregory, said investigators’ first step is identifying the three suspects. Anyone with information on the incident is asked to call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233 with reference #10092764.

After she saw the video, Heywood decided to continue with the Sunday morning service but stationed someone outside to make sure the vandals didn’t return to set the lawn on fire.

It’s not the first time congregants have felt threatened. A couple years ago, the church’s sign was hit in a drive-by shooting, Heywood said.

“The Scripture we had for Sunday was related to free will and how other people’s free will affects us,” Heywood said. “It’s not the first time we’ve had to remember where the exits are. … Sometimes I feel like a flight attendant at the beginning of worship – your nearest exit might be behind you.”

At Pride in Perry, in Spokane’s South Perry neighborhood this past weekend, a white supremacist group, the Northwest chapter of the National Alliance, protested. Spokane police responded and maintained a presence, according to KHQ.

Spokane NAACP President Kurtis Robinson arrived later that afternoon after the group had left. Robinson said he was proud of the community for not engaging with the white supremacists and was thankful to police for how they handled the situation by maintaining a presence from a distance, which he believes prevented an escalation.

While the incident at the church is upsetting, Heywood has some ideas on how to move forward. One congregation already has offered to help create a new pride month display, something Heywood hopes turns into a party.

“I think that love is stronger than hate,” Heywood said.