Cutline: The rainbow flag shown here, a symbol of welcome to the LGBT community, was recently stolen from Edmonds Lutheran Church, and someone duct-taped an anti-gay cardboard sign to the church readerboard. (Courtesy Edmonds Lutheran Church)

Cutline: The rainbow flag shown here, a symbol of welcome to the LGBT community, was recently stolen from Edmonds Lutheran Church, and someone duct-taped an anti-gay cardboard sign to the church readerboard. (Courtesy Edmonds Lutheran Church)

Despite theft, Edmonds church is resolute in its inclusivity

An outward sign of welcome has been stolen, but an Edmonds church stands strong in its support for social justice and inclusion.

Two weekends ago, Edmonds Lutheran Church was flying a rainbow flag. A symbol of gay identity and pride, the flag was up as part of the church’s celebration of Reconciling in Christ Sunday.

First, someone surreptitiously took the rainbow flag down and put it on the ground. In its place, duct-taped to the church readerboard, was a hand-lettered cardboard sign. The sign, about 3-feet-square, listed a Bible verse — Leviticus 18:22 — that some Christians interpret as condemning homosexuality.

Church leaders put the flag back up. But shortly after Pastor Tim Oleson reported the hand-written sign to Edmonds police Jan. 21, the rainbow flag was stolen.

“We welcome all people,” said Oleson, who leads Edmonds Lutheran Church with another pastor, the Rev. Julie Josund.

In 2015, the Edmonds congregation, part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, completed a church-sanctioned process to be recognized as welcoming of LGBT people. Edmonds Lutheran Church is now known as a Reconciling in Christ congregation.

“We worked through it about six or seven months, with Bible studies, a guest preacher and Open Door Ministries, a Reconciling in Christ organization,” Oleson said Wednesday. The designation proclaims being open and affirming to LGBT people, but the pastor said it’s also a statement of welcome for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, age or economic status.

“It’s primarily the LBGT community. That particular group has been marginalized and oppressed by the church,” he said. “On that Sunday, we recognized it’s still important work, reaching people who have felt very excluded by the church and excluded by God.”

With new leadership in the White House and hot-button issues on everyone’s mind, Edmonds Lutheran Church is reaching out to neighbors in many ways. It will host a “Being Muslim in America” program and dinner, the last of a three-part series, at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 11. There will also be a workshop for parents, “Walking Our Children Through Fear,” at 1 p.m. Feb. 12. Both events are free and open to the public.

The parent workshop is aimed at discussing fears over immigration, deportation and other issues in the news since President Donald Trump took office.

Panelists Feb. 11 will include Jasmin Samy, an immigrant from Egypt and civil rights manager with the state chapter of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations; Benjamin Shabaz, imam of the Al Islam Center in Seattle and an African-American Muslim; and Ramzy Baroud, a Palestinian-American journalist.

“We definitely are a social-justice oriented church,” Oleson said. “We believe that’s what the Gospel compels us to be — include the excluded and love your neighbor.”

Rather than avoid issues causing dissension, Oleson said the church invites people with differing points of view to talk about them. “If we’re not speaking to the headlines of the day, we’re not doing what we’re trying to do — be a church in the world,” he said. “We’re not a club.”

Some neighbors, though, would rather leave scrawled messages in secret than talk openly.

An Edmonds police spokesman, Sgt. Shane Hawley, said Thursday that the church’s report of the cardboard sign lists the incident as malicious mischief. “I don’t know of any other instances of this occurring,” he said.

Police kept the sign, the pastor said. And the church is ordering five new rainbow flags.

“If they keep getting stolen, we’ll keep putting them back up,” Oleson said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Events

Edmonds Lutheran Church has scheduled two free community events. All are welcome:

“Being Muslim in America:” The church will host the last of a three-part “Islam, Christianity and Friendship” dinner and lecture series at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 11. A speakers panel will share experiences with Islamophobia. Keynote speaker is Jasmin Samy, civil rights manager for Washington state chapter of CAIR, Council on American-Islamic Relations. The event, in partnership with the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS), includes a free Mediterranean dinner. RSVP (not required) by emailing office@edmondslutheran.org.

“Walking Our Children Through Fear:” A parent workshop scheduled for 1-3 p.m. Feb. 12 will address anxiety among children and teens related to immigration, deportation, the LGBT community and other human rights issues. The event includes a talk by licensed mental health counselor Wendy Flores, video presentations and group participation. Free refreshments and child care. RSVP (not required) by calling 425-744-8090.

The church is at 23525 84th Ave. W., Edmonds.

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