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MILFORD – Police said a Tennessee man broke into a Milford church and damaged an office door because he believed the church and its pastor “were supporting and pushing the LGBT agenda.”
Charles Yarbrough, 30, of Nashville, was charged with a hate crime, burglary and criminal mischief.
Mary Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church in downtown Milford has made a point of proclaiming that it welcomes members of the gay community.
Since February, a colorful sign in front of the church has announced, “To be clear if you are queer LGBTQIA+ you are affirmed here!”
It went up days after a vote at a special General Conference in St. Louis Feb. 23 to 26, when the United Methodist Church voted to strengthen its ban on gay clergy and same-sex marriages. The local church also posted a sign apologizing for that vote.
The Rev. Kristina Hansen at Mary Taylor Church doesn’t think it was necessarily the rainbow colored sign that made the church a victim of a hate crime, but rather the church itself and its views on sexuality. The church has long been an open and affirming church, one that sanctions marriages between those of alternative sexuality, and allows openly gay clergy.
The church was vandalized twice in the past week, though police have not said if Yarbrough is a suspect in the first incident. During the first attack on the church on Thursday, June 27, the perpetrator targeted what Hansen described as church symbols, gouging a huge hole in an antique wooden kneeling rail inside the church, as well as slicing chairs on the church altar.
“That’s where I would sit and that’s where a liturgist would sit,” Hansen said.
The church holds a community meal for the homeless and others in need one Thursday a month and the pastor said that is how the suspect was able to get into the church.
On Monday, July 1, the church was attacked again, this time at the Wesley Center next to the church, which houses classrooms and offices. According to Hansen, the pastor’s office door was damaged with what might have been a box cutter.
Police said through “fast acting and in-depth investigation, officers were able to develop and locate a suspect.”
While being interviewed, Yarbrough stated he entered the building and damaged the office door because he felt the pastor, and the church as a whole, were supporting and pushing the LGBT agenda,” police said.
Hansen said the violence against the church will not sway Mary Taylor Church from upholding its mission and welcoming all people.
“What can I say but pray for this guy,” Hansen said, “for people who are struggling. We are not dissuaded in any way, shape or form. We’re going to love our neighbor and we’re not going to stop because of one person’s response.
“It’s unfortunate,” she added. “But it doesn’t dissuade us from our stance of affirmation. We’re the church, and we’re going to continue to be that.”
Yarbrough was held in police custody on $50,000 bond following his arrest.