Vandals hit church with conservative views on homosexuality

Vandals hit church with conservative views on homosexuality

PORTLAND, Ore. - Vandals attacked a Southeast Portland church known for its conservative views on homosexuality, and church leaders said the damage is in the thousands of dollars.

Someone taking responsibility for the damage sent an email to local media, claiming the vandalism at Mars Hill Church on Southeast Taylor was the work of a gay rights group.

The vandals broke century-old stained-glass windows.

"We heard these loud, startlingly loud, noises," said neighbor Annie Winn, who watched from across the street. "We jumped out of bed and looked out the windows here, and these black figures were running past the church and throwing rocks at the windows as they went."

She spotted at least six vandals dressed in all black running away after shattering at least nine windows.

"It saddens us that some folks feel they had to vandalize our space to be heard. But we wish them no ill will," said lead pastor Tim Smith.

The Seattle-based church, known for its strict views against homosexuality, attracted protests when it opened in Portland last year.

Smith said vandalism won't stop the church as members work to define Mars Hill by more than what they are against.

"I disagree with the church on that issue. But I completely disagree with the vandalism as a response to that," Winn said.

The destruction is actually bringing church critics and supporters together.

"I needed to make it clear that they were not speaking for me as an openly gay man, as a Christian, as a pastor," said Rev. Nathan Meckley, with the Metropolitan Community Church.

Meckley felt compelled to help clean up despite his disagreement with Mars Hill. He's encouraged his church now has a running dialogue with Mars Hill members.

"The fact that we are actually meeting with one another and know one another, I feel, sincerely, that we are beginning to understand one another in a completely different way," he said.

Mars Hill leaders say the church is not antigay, but they also are not flexible in their beliefs on sexuality.

Police say vandals also hit a nearby bank but at this point investigators aren't aware of a connection.