I recently spent the afternoon working on a sermon about the early church, welcoming all who are oppressed - and how modern churches need to do this, too.
After I finished the draft and was leaving, a young adult approached me at the church door with another in the car and asked, "Is it true that this church accepts people like me? I am 'Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender.'"
Of course I told them they'd be welcome and gave them information about our church and invited them to visit.
Tears came to me on my drive home that evening for two reasons.
One is that a person's first question to a church would be "Is it true that this church accepts people like me?"
It is upsetting that some churches act as if God's unconditional love is conditional.
The second reason I had tears is that the church I am at strives to be about God's unconditional love.
So without hesitation I can respond to people who ask if it is true our church accepts people like them, "Yes, we do!"
It's so wonderful that there are religious communities (and we are certainly not the only one) committed to unconditional love.
But not all religious folks cotton to that very Biblical notion.
My car was recently vandalized with another Christian's views of things written in indelible ink over our church rainbow bumper sticker that rightfully proclaims "God's Love Has No Strings Attached."
My car has been written on by the same Christian vandal before.
Two banner versions of the bumper sticker have also been stolen from our church property.
A giant car magnet was also stolen from a member's car this week, and a member has even been yelled at by an anonymous bully over the bumper sticker.
Our church is not alone in being victimized by religious bullies.
It's sad that some religious people attack others like this, too ashamed of their acts and too afraid of their theology that they do it stealthily and criminally and in an ugly way.
And what a sad witness this and other hateful Christian conduct provides to non-Christians (like the passenger who discovered the criminal mischief on my car).
A Christian stealing and uttering hateful, hurtful words are powerful reasons to be wary of walking into a church.
Hateful religious folks need our prayers - prayers for forgiveness and prayers that they experience God's loving and comforting presence in and out of their churches, so that one day they will no longer hate and victimize those they disagree with.
Won't you pray with me?
The Rev. Scott Elliott is the pastor at Riviera United Church of Christ in Palm Bay. Visit Riviera UCC's website at rivieraucc.org.