CINCINNATI -- A seminary diploma and other clerical credentials were stolen from the office of an openly gay methodist pastor in what Clifton United Methodist leaders believe was a deliberate rebuke of his presence in the church community.
"The absence of those documents per se do not rob David (Meredith) of his spiritual or legal authority to be a minister, but it's sort of like a part of your identity is being cut out," Clifton UMC Church Council chairman Steve Depoe said.
The Rev. David Meredith was neither living an "immoral lifestyle" nor compromising his religious calling by marrying his long-time partner, Jim Schlachter, an ecclesiastical court found last year, but he has faced continued challenges to his right to preach at Clifton United Methodist.
In March, he was prohibited from speaking in his own defense while members of a higher Methodist court debated the charges of disobedience and immorality again. He, Depoe and other church leaders believe April's theft was another attempt to invalidate his presence within the church.
"It's sort of a classic case of a hate crime against a particular group -- in this case, a spiritual leader," Depoe said.
Given the precision and specificity of the theft, Depoe the thief could even be a member of the denomination or clergy.
Despite the shock and anger the theft initially stirred, DePoe said the church will retain its policy of leaving its doors open throughout the day and welcoming to Christians with a wide variety of beliefs.
"We do see that there are folks who hate and they express those things in various ways," he said. "We have to be measured in our response. We're upset, we're angry at times, but we still have to be Clifton United Methodist Church."