Earlier than the inauguration, the religion leaders urge supporters of the state capitals to take precautionary measures
WASHINGTON (RNS) – Liberal religious groups and minority beliefs across the country are calling for caution in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, with some expressing concerns about possible violence against “liberal churches”.
On Friday evening (January 15th), the United Church of Christ sent a message to member churches warning: “There have been reports that” liberal “churches will be the target of possible attacks” from January 17th to the day of the inauguration on August 20th January.
“We strongly encourage you to address any ministerial and community security concerns, even if it means meeting in a manner other than in person at a church building this week,” the statement delivered to the UCC official said was transmitted to Twitter account.
Upon request for comment on Saturday morning, UCC officials issued an additional statement to the Religion News Service saying the warning was based on “credible threats.”
“This started with concerns about credible threats identified by some UCC conference ministers (our regional leaders) and one of our ecumenical partner communities,” the statement said. “Our national leadership has been cautious, noticing the previous attacks on our churches in the west and in recent weeks against like-minded churches in DC. They decided to ask our congregations to be vigilant during dedication week.”
The UCC later added that the possible attacks appear to be linked to threats against liberal institutions and “government buildings” – possibly with the widespread threats to Capitol buildings in all 50 states uncovered by an internal FBI bulletin from ABC. but that “major churches are among the companies that law enforcement agencies have identified as potential targets. “
Church officials have not detailed the specifics of the threats or identified law enforcement agencies with whom they may have had contact.
When asked to confirm such threats, an FBI spokesman did not respond directly. Instead, they referred to public statements by FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday regarding the safety of the inauguration. The observations did not identify threats to churches, but noted discomfort about “an extensive amount of online chatter” and the fact that there were “potential threats” of violence across the country.
“The American people may not hear of every disturbance in the media and may not see the hand of the FBI in everything we do, but they should be confident that there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work going on behind the scenes across the country Spotlight, where we feed relevant information to all of our partners so they can harden the goals accordingly, ”Wray says in the notes.
The warning from UCC officials raised alarms in some communities and prompted Rev. Franz Rigert, Minister of the UCC Conference in Wisconsin, to send a message to area ministers to calm down “unnecessary alarms”. He stated that while “caution is required” there are “no specific threats” to any UCC conference at the moment.
In a separate interview with RNS, Franz stated that he wants to remain vigilant should the situation change.
Other faith communities are also on high alert. Several bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America sent emails this Sunday encouraging pastors not to meet in their church buildings or to broadcast services live, and a bishop from Alaska, Rev. Shelley Wickstrom, said in an email to church leaders in their synod There have been reports that hate groups are planning to attack “liberal activists and churches” in addition to state capitol buildings.
Wickstrom told RNS that it later made it clear to regional leaders that a local FBI office in Alaska had not heard any similar threats.
Bishop Todd Ousley, who works with the presiding bishop’s office, said his office was not currently aware of any direct threat, but acknowledged that Church members were “increasingly concerned.”
Other faith groups also expressed concern about possible confrontations. On Friday, the Sikh coalition issued a public statement calling on members to remain “vigilant” during the inauguration and exchange information to report hate incidents.
“No one, regardless of their political views, deserves targeted attack, and biased crime is an increased problem at these moments – especially for marginalized communities that are often subject to discrimination,” the statement said.
The US-Islamic Relations Council encouraged Muslim Americans to stay clear of the Capitol buildings and the surrounding areas until after Biden’s inauguration, and reportedly cited the threat of violence in those areas. The CAIR chapter in Florida also warned Muslims to stay away from the demonstrations in general so as not to become the target of violence.
Unitarian Universalist Association leaders have sent messages to local leaders across the country discouraging them from participating in confrontational counter-protests against Trump supporters and “not traveling to downtown communities on the 17th.”
Various other denominations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The warnings follow recent attacks on churches in Washington, DC, by Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist organization that supports Donald Trump.
In December, proud boys were filmed tearing down and destroying Black Lives Matter signs from three district churches. They reportedly stole a banner at another church, Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, which expressed liberal views. Two of the churches, Asbury United Methodist Church and Metropolitan AME, are historic black congregations, and the latter have since filed lawsuits against the Proud Boys and their leader, Enrique Tarrio. (Tarrio was arrested in January after assuming responsibility for burning one of the Church’s marks.)
All four churches have since replaced their signs – some several times – and Mount Vernon has replaced their missing liberal banner with a new one declaring “Black Lives Matter”. The churches were also granted additional police presence when the Proud Boys returned to the city on January 6, the same day as the raid on the Capitol.
As the clergy gathered around a new banner from the Black Lives Matter that day at Luther Place Memorial Church, one of the congregations whose markings were destroyed in December, they were harassed by Trump supporters: two entered the prayer group and mocked the 2020 murder after George Floyd by police. Faith leaders said one of the men allegedly referred to him as “the n – George Floyd”.
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