Burning of pride flag at Sparta, NJ church probed as hate crime
SPARTA — A month since the burning of a rainbow LGBTQ pride flag outside a church, another local pastor has voiced concern over some community reaction to what is being probed as a bias incident.
The incident at the Sparta United Methodist Church was discovered on Jan. 2 by two members of the parish and reported to the police department on Jan. 8, according to Sparta police.
Video surveillance shows a vehicle arriving on church property the night before at 10 p.m. and someone lighting the flag on fire, the church’s pastor told police.
The video, however, was not clear and neither the person nor vehicle could be identified, police said.
The church has flown the pride flag consistently since 2019 when Pastor Reverend Steven Bechtold was appointed to the church, as reported by New Jersey Herald — and at times before that once parishioners voted to join the Reconciling Ministries Network.
"There is a sense of hurtfulness that someone would deliberately come on the property," Bechtold was quoted as saying in the Herald report.
Reconciling ministries are churches, Sunday school classes, youth groups, regional groups, campus ministries, colleges, and more that have made "the Reconciling commitment to intersectional LGBTQ justice."
Out of the network of more than 1,300, roughly two dozen are in New Jersey.
Support from another congregation
“The ongoing damage to the Pride flag and the reaction of some in the community to this damage is of great concern,” Sophia Inclusive Community Pastor Michael Corso said in an open letter published on Wednesday by TapInto.
Sophia Inclusive Community is rooted in Catholicism, but bills itself as an alternative community with an adapted liturgy.
“My hope is that the publicity will help to raise awareness and allow for a teachable moment where people will stop and pause and examine what they think, feel, believe and do when it comes to the ’other’ especially those in the LGBTQIA community,” Corso also said.