A “Black Lives Matter” sign posted on the exterior of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waynesboro’s fellowship hall was vandalized — crossing out the word “Black” and adding the word “All” to read “All Lives Matter.”
The Rev. Paul Oakley said he became aware of the vandalism Tuesday after being alerted by community members. The church, located in the 500 block of Pine Avenue since 1965, placed the sign outside on May 31. The Black Lives Matter sign had been inside the sanctuary for almost five years before being moved outside.
Oakley, who is a White man, described the act as “an expression of hate in the service of white supremacy” in a letter to the church’s fellowship Tuesday.
“Someone spat on our values and tried to erase our voice for justice from our own property in the process. Be angry. This is important,” the letter read. “In the process, keep perspective. No windows were smashed. Our fellowship hall was not fire bombed ... even if our windows were to be smashed someday, how does that stack up alongside the need to make a moral call for increasing justice for Black people?”
Oakley, who has been the reverend for five years, said the church has a second identical Black Lives Matter sign they plan to replace the vandalized sign with. In addition, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is collecting donations to order additional signs in the event of more vandalism.
“Our assumption is that sooner or later our replacement sign will be defaced, too. From our perspective when you say Black Lives Matter, anyone who refutes that with All Lives Matter is saying Black lives don’t matter,” Oakley said when reached by phone. “The feelings around racial issues are running higher than average right now, so it’s very likely our replacement sign will also be defaced.”
Although Oakley anticipates more vandalism, he said the main thing is to keep the message out there. Two principles of the denomination are the inherent worth and dignity of every individual and the interdependent web of existence. Those two principles combined are the theological groundwork for a denomination that has, since the 1960s, acknowledged social injustices that affect spiritual life, Oakley said.
“In our current setting, it’s African Americans especially, but also other people of color who more regularly are not treated equally or given equal opportunity. It is a baseline spiritual value,” he said. “Our intention is to live out the value that’s in the statement Black Lives Matter because until Black lives are truly treated as if they matter, we all can’t gain the full benefit of spiritual possibilities as interconnected people.”
An official police report on the incident had not been filed as of Tuesday. Oakley said this is the first act of vandalism since his time at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
The reverend said he personally would want the person or persons responsible for the vandalism to know they “violated the sanctity of our sanctuary.” He hopes the responsible party comes forward to apologize and pay for a replacement.
“If someone would do that, that would be enough to settle that particular incident,” Oakley said. “But the reality is that we have this larger thing going on in society where exactly that kind of behavior is becoming extremely common. So, in the end, it’s not about settling an individual case. It’s about changing society so this is no longer the perpetual reality.”
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