LIMA — New Life Assembly Church Pastor Bob Wardle was greeted with an unusual message when he arrived to work on Thursday: “God is a woman and she is gay.” “Love is love.” “Pride.” “God is dead.” “All people are equal.” “Be kind.”
The words, along with profane references to President Donald Trump, were spray-painted on the exterior walls of the Kibby Street church, a non-denominational church founded in 2007, in what appears to be an act of vandalism.
“I just think it’s hate toward Biblical truth that the church is preaching,” Wardle said.
Wardle’s preaching style is blunt. The pastor often decries what he considers rampant sinful activity within the American churches. In a June 9 sermon, Wardle shared a list of those sins: Drunkenness. Fornication. Adultery. He then moved to the topic of sexual orientation, declaring “homosexuality is straight-up perversion.”
Wardle ended the sermon with the claim that he has been called on by God “to be a watchman that stands on the wall and says warn the righteous.”
A sign outside the church shares similar messages: “The Rainbow: A promise of God, NOT a symbol of pride.” “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman. It is an abomination. Leviticus 18:22.”
But the church’s message may not be well received by those it singles out, particularly those who identify as LGBTQ.
“When you hear that so much, you internalize that inferiority, and you really start to believe those things about yourself, that you’re an abomination,” said Lucy Flowers, director of school-based prevention programs for Prevention Awareness Support Services, which hosts support groups for LGBTQ youth and adults.
Flowers said anti-LGBTQ messages are considered a form of oppression. And for those who identify as LGBTQ and Christian, she said it’s common for LGBTQ individuals to believe they are undeserving of love.
“(They) internalize that ideology because they see it reflected in institutions,” she said. “They start to believe it about themselves.”
That can lead to mental health issues, such as depression and suicide.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth “seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of straight or heterosexual youth,” Flowers said. “When you feel inferior constantly, that can lead to depression and thoughts of suicide.”
“People need to work harder to be more accepting of everyone. Then we wouldn’t see things like that,” she said.
The Lima Police Department has not confirmed a motive in the New Life Assembly vandalism.
LPD Officer Nathan Fried said Thursday afternoon the department had not yet identified any suspects and therefore could not determine what inspired the perpetrator or perpetrators.
“We hate that it was done,” Fried said.
The front entrance of New Life Assembly was not vandalized, but the east, west and north-side exterior walls were vandalized with graffiti and eggs, as was a detached shed on the property.
Wardle estimates restoration will cost “thousands” of dollars, as the church’s exterior walls are made with a synthetic stucco.
“It can’t just be painted over,” he said. “The whole church will have to be painted again.”
This is the first time Wardle says the congregation has been targeted by vandalism.
He says the community has been welcoming of New Life Assembly, which restored an old church that at one point appeared destined for demolition when the congregation moved to 1003 Kibby Street in May 2013. The only backlash Wardle has observed has come on Facebook, where he receives occasional “snide remarks.”
A Facebook post shared by the church on June 17 asks whether Christians can be gay, concluding: “A ‘Gay Christian’? Sure, just like these other Christians: ‘Christian drug dealer,’ ‘Fornicating Christian,’ ‘Adulterous Christian,’ ‘Christian murderer,’ ‘Christian witch,’ ‘Christian liar.’ The Bible says ALL THAT DO THESE THINGS will NOT make it to heaven,” citing several passages of Christian scripture.
Another post shared on June 12 reads: “Man’s laws cannot make moral what God has declared immoral. Even if a sin is legalized, it’s still a sin in the eyes of God.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.