Belmont church vandalized again — this time over ceasefire banner

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Friday March 22, 2024
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The Reverend Jim Mitulski stands next to the damaged ceasefire banner outside of the Congregational Church of the Peninsula. Photo: Courtesy Congregational Church of the Peninsula
The Reverend Jim Mitulski stands next to the damaged ceasefire banner outside of the Congregational Church of the Peninsula. Photo: Courtesy Congregational Church of the Peninsula

It wasn't anti-LGBTQ related but, for the second time in less than a year, vandals damaged a banner at a Belmont church — this one urging a ceasefire in Gaza.

The Congregational Church of the Peninsula, formerly known as the Congregational Church of Belmont, was vandalized sometime overnight March 19, church officials stated in a March 22 news release.

A banner in front of the Belmont church reading, "Love and Life Demand a Permanent Ceasefire Now," was sprayed with brown paint sometime overnight Tuesday, March 19. It was discovered Wednesday morning, the release stated.

Later, on Wednesday, two photos featuring Israeli children who are being held by Hamas were attached to the banner, according to the release.

Tensions have been high in the Bay Area and across the country since Hamas invaded Israel October 7, when Hamas terrorists crossed into Israeli territory and killed 1,200 people in the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. Israel responded with an extensive bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip, governed by Hamas, and a ground invasion, which has led to the deaths of at least 30,000 Palestinians, according to media reports, making it the deadliest conflict in the region in over four decades.

Since then, numerous protests have been held in the Bay Area and beyond demanding a permanent ceasefire. Various city bodies, including the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the Oakland City Council, have adopted resolutions calling for a ceasefire.

Last summer, the church's rainbow pride banner was slashed in two, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported. Both vandalism events have been reported to the Belmont Police Department, which has promised increased patrols in the area, church officials stated.

Belmont Police Corporal Brian Vogel confirmed to the B.A.R. March 22 that officers have increased patrols and the investigation is ongoing. At this point, he does not see the ceasefire banner incident as a hate crime. The Pride banner incident, however, is being investigated as a hate crime, Lieutenant Pete Lotti told the B.A.R. last summer.

The Reverend Jim Mitulski, a gay man who is pastor at the church, stated he and the congregation were "disappointed" in the recent vandalism.

"While disappointed at this violent response to our call for an immediate bilateral ceasefire," Mitulski stated, "we are not discouraged from proclaiming the message. A ceasefire applies to all parties and is consistent with our church's commitment to live out the call from Jesus, 'Blessed are the Peacemakers.'

"This banner has already brought largely positive feedback, especially, but not solely, from our Muslim neighbors, one of whom offered to help us replace it," he added. "I pray for the people who vandalized our church and invite them to engage us personally in dialogue."

Mitulski said he makes the same invitation to whomever damaged the rainbow Pride banner last summer. Mitulski recently told the B.A.R. that he has not heard any updates on the Pride banner vandalism.

"This is what I believe Jesus would do," Mitulski stated.

Mitulski previously stated that some in the congregation were a bit apprehensive about displaying the ceasefire banner after the incident with the Pride banner. The ceasefire banner went up earlier this month.

The B.A.R. had reached out to Mitulski earlier this month after the Coast Pride Center in Half Moon Bay was vandalized. As the paper reported, in that incident, which occurred overnight March 4, two people cut and removed the Progress Pride flag, tore down rainbow bunting, kicked and cut a "No home for hate" lawn sign, smeared mud on a wooden trans heart, threw the center's painted rocks onto the sidewalk and street, and threw a rock into one of the building's front windows.

There was also another incident in February whereby the center's Pride flag was stolen and the "No home for hate" sign was torn down, Coast Pride officials said.

The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office stated that in the Coast Pride incidents, deputies believe they were the work of juveniles. A sheriff's spokesperson stated that the department believes the incidents were isolated.

Last May, Palo Alto police opened a hate crime investigation into the vandalism of a Pride flag flown by the city's First Lutheran Church.

A church employee had found it ripped down and reported the incident to police in the Santa Clara County city on May 16, as the Mercury News reported.

The Congregational Church of the Peninsula, a member of the United Church of Christ denomination, is the result of the merger last June of the Congregational Church of Belmont and the First Congregational Church of Redwood City, the oldest Protestant church in San Mateo County, church officials stated.

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