The words “Black Lives Matter” on a Mill Bay church’s sign were spray-painted over with “God was here” and “smile” in red in what the minister is calling an act of racism.
Rev. Katherine Brittain of Sylvan United Church said a member of the congregation discovered the vandalism on Wednesday morning.
“The fact that they deliberately took down the words on both sides, it says to me there’s some kind of anger against that particular message and I can only put that down to racism,” said Brittain.
She has been at the church for two years since moving to the Island from Toronto. Other words on the sign, such as the church’s website, were left intact, she said.
When she first heard of the vandalism, Brittain drove to the church expecting to see expletives.
The reference to God made her even more disheartened.
“To erase the struggle and the resistance of an oppressed group of people and to put God on top of that, it was horrible for me theologically,” Brittain said.
“That’s not my understanding of God. God does not erase the suffering of people.”
The vandalism was reported to Shawnigan Lake RCMP. Officers believe the spray paint was taken from Kerry Park, where there is ongoing construction, said Island district RCMP spokesman Cpl. Chris Manseau.
The spray-paint can was left in the rain, which damaged the paper label, making it impossible to retrieve fingerprints, he said. The church does not have video surveillance.
Manseau said the vandalism was likely a crime of opportunity, adding: “There does not appear to be any underlying hate-motivated actions.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact Shawnigan Lake RCMP. Brittain recorded a YouTube video condemning the vandalism, while standing in front of the vandalized sign.
“It really disturbs me that someone would take down our commitment to anti-racism and replace it with this false understanding of God,” she says in the video.
Brittain urges the person who vandalized the sign to reach out and talk to her.
Volunteers are working to remove the paint.
The church decided to show its support for the Black Lives Matter movement after U.S. President Donald Trump held up a Bible for a photo opportunity in front of St. John’s Church after the tear-gassing of peaceful protesters in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square on June 1.
Brittain was so angry to see what she called Trump’s “subversion of the biblical message” for his own political agenda, she recorded a passionate sermon for the church’s YouTube channel. During a Zoom coffee meeting with members of the congregation, it was decided the church would display “Black Lives Matter” on its sign.
It was intended to be a message of solidarity with protests against anti-Black racism that have been happening around the world in response to the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
The vandalism underscores that racism, whether overt or systemic, is present in every segment of society, Brittain said.
“I think it’s a really small taste of the everyday reality of the people who are experiencing racism,” she said.
The church plans to re-post the Black Lives Matter statement, and share other messages: “Love is love” in support of Pride month, and “Indigenous rights are human rights.”