As It Happens

Why an Indiana church plans to keep swastika, gay slur graffiti

St. David’s Episcopal in Beanblossom, Indiana, is a liberal church in a conservative county. But Mother Kelsey Hutto says leaving the hateful pieces of graffiti shows that the congregation won't let hate trump love.
On Sunday morning, parishioners of St. David's Episcopal Church in Beanblossom, Indiana, discovered a swastika had been spray-painted onto the church, along with other hateful graffiti. (St. David's Episcopal Church)
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Warning: Images that follow include offensive language.

On Sunday morning, parishioners at a small-town Indiana church got a nasty surprise.

Someone had spray painted three things on the side of the building: a swastika, the words "HEIL TRUMP" and a slur about gay people.

St. David's Episcopal in Beanblossom, Indiana, is a liberal church in a conservative county. And although the graffiti offended the congregation, they made an unusual decision about what do with it.

The priest, Mother Kelsey Hutto, talked about it on As It Happens this week. Here's part of that conversation:

Kelsey Hutto: I believe we were targeted because we are an inclusive church. It doesn't matter who you are, what colour you are, where you come from or who you love. You are always welcome here at St. David's. I think because of that stance is one of the reasons we were targeted.

Carol Off: Beanblossom, Indiana, is a small place, I presume?

KH: Very small, yes.

Kelsey Hutto is the priest at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Beanblossom, Indiana. She believes the church was targeted because of its liberal stance on inclusiveness to people of all races and sexualities. (Kelsey Hutto)

CO: So do you have any idea who might have done this?

KH: I don't. And at this moment in time, it doesn't sound like the sheriff's office knows either. I'm pretty confident it's not somebody in our direct circle, in terms of either members of the parish or friends of members of the parish. There's a part of me that believes that whoever is responsible for this maybe isn't being heard in their own surroundings, and that this was an action in which to feel heard.

CO: And so what do you think inspired this attack on your church?

KH: As much as I hate to admit it, I do believe that the election played a role in this. The amount of hatred that has kind of permeated our atmosphere in the nation, and the rhetoric that was used in the election to propel that, I think was a big part of it. It's not a secret that our congregation as a whole is fairly liberal and was disappointed with the election results.

CO: What have you decided to do about this graffiti?

KH: Believe it or not, we are going to leave it up until the end of November. We believe that symbols are what you make of them. We could look at this graffiti as hateful, and we could be angry or hurt, but we choose instead to look at it as a symbol of hope. If there's anybody in the surrounding area or in the nation that needs a safe haven, this graffiti on our walls marks us as a safe haven. It is what we believe in, that we are a safe church. So if anybody can hear that, I think it's a good reason to leave it up.

The words "HEIL TRUMP" were one of the things discovered Sunday morning spray-painted on the side of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Beanblossom, Indiana. (St. David’s Episcopal Church)

CO: What message do you think that sends to the person or people who did it?

KH: I hope that message is that love conquers all hate, and that if the perpetrator decides to come to St. David's tomorrow or on Sunday morning, they will be welcomed. They will be forgiven – they're already forgiven – and they will be loved as a child of God.

CO: How have people in your church responded to your decision that you're going to leave these messages – this swastika, "Heil Trump," a slur against gay people – that you're going to leave it there? How have they reacted?

KH: They have reacted quite well, actually. At first, I was a little nervous. In fact, at first, my inclination was actually to cover it, seeing how much hurt my congregation was experiencing as each one saw it. But we decided together that this is who we are, and we're not ashamed of it. And by covering it, it means that we're ashamed, and we're giving power to those who have done this act. And my congregation is behind me full force.

For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Mother Kelsey Hutto.

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