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Burning Of Gay Pride Flag Bursts 'Happy Bubble' Of Ames Church

Amy Mayer
This image of the Ames UCC church shows the rods that once held a pride banner. Minister Eileen Gebbie says the man who yanked it down must have worked hard to reach it and pull it loose.

A bubble of faith burst for a church in Ames this week after its gay pride flag was ripped down and burned.

The welcoming and affirming Ames United Church of Christ, located downtown, existed in a “happy bubble,” says senior minister Eileen Gebbie. And even after Adolfo Martinez allegedly destroyed the church’s gay pride flag in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, Gebbie wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Then, he went on Des Moines’ KCCI-TV declaring his guilt and referencing Scripture.

“It is a judgement and it is written to execute vengeance on the heathen and punishments upon the people,” Martinez says on camera.

“Watching that news show, that segment, last night and hearing what he had to say and then reading the transcript…and saying that he feels like he's doing it in the name of God, seeking vengeance, and he said something about execution is a blessing of the Lord…was a real punch to the gut,” Gebbie said, sitting in the sanctuary of the church Thursday. “Partly just because of the words itself, partly because of the history of violence against gay people by the Christian church, but in large part because he lives only one block away from us.”

Credit Amy Mayer / IPR
Senior minister Eileen Gebbie learned of the flag's disappearance on Tuesday morning. When she called Ames Police, they had already made an arrest.

Congregants of the church generally like to believe Ames is a place where everything is fine, Gebbie said, and they have reacted to the incident with surprise, heartache and anger.

“Some surprise that the real world is right here, right outside the walls of our sanctuary,” she said. “Heartache…we've got lots of queer people in the church, though by no means are we the biggest percentage. And anger, too. Just the anger that anyone who has their property violated feels.” 

Initially Gebbie said publicly that she would welcome Martinez at the church, but after his visible agitation on the news, she’s refined that sentiment.

“While I would like to welcome Mr. Martinez in, it would only be for conversation, or I should say it would only be if he'd be open to conversation,” she said. “If he were to approach our church in more anger and more violence he would not be welcome here because no one's violence is welcome here.”

Still, Gebbie said she’s worried for him.

“He's not feeling very good right now. And there's a part of me, the gay part of me, that says well fine, he shouldn't feel good right now,” she said. “But then there's the human part of me that thinks, he's doing real damage to his soul as well as his body.”

Martinez has been charged with theft, reckless use of fire and criminal mischief. The Story County Attorney’s office has not stated publicly whether Martinez also will be charged with a hate crime.

Gebbie says the church’s work and mission won’t change and she expects a new gay pride flag will be put up in the next two weeks.

Credit Amy Mayer / IPR
These cut zip ties helped hold up the pride flag, which is part of the reason Gebbie says it would have taken a lot of work to get it down.

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames