CHICAGO (CBS) — Three simple words displayed outside a Beverly church sparked an angry backlash of threatening comments on social media, and the church has changed the message on its electronic sign, but not the sentiment behind them.
Earlier this month, Beverly Unitarian Church posted the message “Black Lives Matter” on the electronic sign on its front lawn at the corner of 103rd Street and Longwood Avenue.
Known in the community as The Castle, the church said it chose those words because it felt the message would be “thought-provoking.”
“The BUC Board picked ‘Black Lives Matter’ at our mid-August Board meeting. We felt the message behind these words that for too long black citizens have been demonstrably less valued could inspire us all to look at how we might change,” the church said in a Facebook post.
While many people posted comments supporting the church’s message, several others posted profane rants, accusing the church of being racist and anti-police.
“Your sign out front shows support for an organization that supports and promotes the killing of others. This is in the Bible where? I’ve never read to hate one another, but, to love one another instead,” Elizabeth Onesto wrote in the review section of the church’s Facebook page.
The church said some of the comments about the original message were threatening, and have been referred to police.
“We wish to thank the police officials of our district who have taken some of the more threatening comments posted on this page seriously. We thank them their hard work on our behalf and on behalf of the safety of everyone in our community,” the church said in a Facebook post.
Several reviewers accused the “Black Lives Matter” movement of being a terrorist group that promotes violence against whites and police officers.
“A terrorist organization matters? The chanting for cops deaths and so forth is godly like?” Facebook user Yvonne Chavez wrote in a review of the church that has since been removed.
After receiving several complaints both online and in person, the church said it decided to change the message.
“A message left on our answering machine, asking us to think about how these words make a police officer feel, gave us the most pause,” the church wrote. “We had no intention of aligning ourselves to a specific organization that is maligning people who offer us security – AND we still believe the premise of this statement.”
The sign now reads “Life Matters, Risk Loving Everyone.” Although the church decided to remove the “Black Lives Matter” message from its sign, it said it stands behind the sentiment.
“The statement ‘black lives matter’ does not mean that other lives do not matter. Indeed, it is exactly the opposite. If all life matters, then paying attention to those whose lives are demonstrably less valued by society becomes a necessary response. As Universalists, we believe that all life is equally precious and everyone should have the right to thrive in an environment of peace and freedom,” the church wrote.
“We have made an effort to listen deeply to your responses and we ask all of you to step back, and do the same. How would you answer this question: For too long being black has meant being less than; how do we change this in our community? We look forward to the conversation,” the church added.