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Nov. 19 2008 12:00 AM

A radical “queer” group and the conservative church it infiltrated tell their stories.

The story of Bash Back, a self-described radical queer activist group, and its infiltration of Mount Hope Church two Sundays ago has been picked up by the religious media and a large number of right-wing blogs. The story even made its way to the “O’Reilly Factor” on the Fox News Network on Monday night. But both the self-described queer anarchists and the church are taking issue with how the story has been told.

Bash Back representatives Andrew Mykall and Stewart, who wished to have his last name withheld, and the Rev. John Elieff, a pastor at the Creyts Road church — widely called the Church of the Flags — talked separately with City Pulse last week to explain their views of the situation.

“Their message is that homosexuality is a sin,” Mykall said, explaining why Mount Hope was picked for the “action.” “And it’s as equal a sin as murder.”

In a written statement, Bash Back pointed to Mount Hope programs like Dunamai, a men’s group on sexual addiction with the stated goal of addressing “the many forms of sexual idolatry as a whole.”

Mykall, who grew up attending Mount Hope, said Dunami and other groups put gays in the same group as flashers, rapists and other sex criminals.

Mykall and Stewart both object to claims that their “action” was violent in any way. Some blogs have used adjectives such as “assault” when describing what Bash Back did. Bash Back members split into two groups — one group stayed outside to protest, the other dressed as churchgoers and went into the church. The outside protesters were meant to draw security outside so there would be no violence against the inside group.

The inside group infiltrated the church, and in the middle of the service hung a pro-gay banner and tossed an estimated 1,000 fliers around.

Reports that Bash Back pulled a fire alarm and tossed glitter and condoms at churchgoers are false, say Mykall and Stewart. Mykall doesn’t recall hearing a fire alarm and never saw any fire trucks show up — Elieff said that no one saw a member of Bash Back pull a fire alarm, but that two alarms near an entrance had been pulled.

As a reporter for City Pulse who covered the protest, I was standing outside the main entrance and did not hear a fire alarm. Nor did I see any fire trucks respond to an alarm.

Mykall said that church leaders have not requested to speak with Bash Back members, but to them, such a conversation would not be desirable.

“The reason we have chosen not to sit down with the leadership of Mount Hope Church is, let’s face it, we’re not going to change their minds,” Mykall said. The tactics of two Sundays ago served the intended purpose, Stewart said. “Sometimes the only way we can get that point across is by appearing angry or violent,” Stewart said. The pair both underscored that the intention of the “action” was to reach out to youth.

The Rev. Elieff does agree on one point with Bash Back: The church believes that homosexuality is morally wrong. “We believe what the bible says: it’s an abomination.” Elieff said. “People are entitled to their opinion, we don’t contest that. They are entitled to their own interpretation of the bible too.” To Elieff, and the larger church, homosexuality is a temptation to resist like any other.

“To me, homosexuality is about lust, attraction, not about the way you were born, not about a disease,” Elieff said. Elieff says that he has witnessed homosexuals reform and go on to live “happy” heterosexual lives. He is unaware of any specific church program targeting the gay community. Various programs at the church, he says, encompass gays and lesbians, like the sex addiction support group.

“We’ve had people lead lives free of homosexuality,” he said. The church, Elieff said, is focusing its attention on protecting other churches from suffering a similar “action.” The coverage of the incident, he said, has been grossly underrepresented in the media and contended that a similar action against gays would garner huge attention.

“We would not want to see what happened two Sundays ago happen to another church or religious organization,” he said. Elieff said that the church, however, has returned to normal. Mount Hope claims a flock of around 5,000.

And in contrast to Mykall and Stewart, he would welcome a meeting between the two sides. Mykall and Stewart say that Bash Back (which has several chapters around the country, each with its own leadership) is planning to lay low for a while because the group has received threats. But that doesn’t mean the other chapters are going to be so quiet.

“Without giving anything away,” Mykall said. “It’s going to be an interesting ride.”

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