NAMPA — Driving down Midland Boulevard in southern Nampa, many eye-catching signs are on display for schools, shops and churches.

But one sign stands out from the rest. For the past month or so, one side of the sign has read, “If you aren’t outraged, you’re not paying attention.” Before that, it proclaimed the simple phrase, “Love is love.”

This sign stands outside the United Church of Christ, an open and affirming progressive church that, church leadership said, accepts everyone from any faith, color or sexuality.

But congregant Melissa McDaniel said people sometimes think of them by a different name.

“We do get referred to as ‘the gay church,’” McDaniel said. “Even though it’s not predominantly gay.”

WIFE AND WIFE

McDaniel and her wife Valeda Garside started attending the church in 2009 after moving to Idaho from Washington. They knew they wanted to find a church after they moved, but they chose not to attend one that wasn’t accepting of their relationship.

“I don’t need to be told on a regular basis that I’m doing something wrong,” Garside said.

When they found the United Church of Christ, Garside said she was pleased with how comfortable she and McDaniel felt being together within the church’s walls. Now, they both hold positions within the church — something they wouldn’t be able to do at other churches, she said.

McDaniel is the auditor and Garside is the deacon, but they also are responsible for changing the church’s sign out front. McDaniel said the inspiration for “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,” came from Heather Heyer, who was killed in August when a car drove into a crowd protesting against a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. That quote was posted as Heyer’s last cover photo on Facebook before she died.

McDaniel said she gets most of her inspiration for the signs from social media, and she doesn’t typically ask for permission from the Pastor Chi Morgan before putting in a new message. She likes to keep the messages as relevant as possible, and soon plans to switch the sign to a quote about domestic abuse for Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October.

JUSTICE AND FAITH

In the past year, the church has made a big step to be more progressive. Morgan said last fall the United Church of Christ became a Just Peace Church, meaning they will have a bigger focus on speaking out against injustices.

Morgan said in the past, the church didn’t have a big voice on issues of social justice because members felt insecure, but he’s wanted to push more in this direction. He said social justice issues ties back to faith.

“That’s what we feel Christ has called us to do, and who Christ was,” Morgan said. “He was a social justice activist.”

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Their church is small, with about 50 people that make up the total congregation. It formed in 1964, and through most of its history was more of a “typical church,” Morgan said. At one point, the congregation was larger than it is now, but when they decided to become an open and affirming church in 2005, their membership dropped from about 60 to just over 10.

“The church has always been a welcoming church,” Morgan said. “But there was an undercurrent there. You could tell there was something wrong there.”

Being open and affirming, Morgan said, means that the church accepts everyone no matter what, which expands beyond accepting just the LGBT community. A few years ago, they had a Wiccan attend their church for about one month, Morgan said.

TRUE ACCEPTANCE

Media Liaison and Treasurer Eva Montoya said the United Church of Christ is a church that truly accepts everyone — they don’t just claim to accept everyone and not actually back it up.

Montoya transitioned genders at 15, surrounded by a supportive family that raised her within the Catholic Church. She stopped going to church while she was married, and when she returned she said she was shunned because she was divorced. The other members didn’t know she was transgender at the time, and once they were told she became an even bigger outcast.

“That didn’t sit well with me,” Montoya said.

She left that church because she didn’t feel welcome, but faith was still important to her, Montoya said. Then, about a year ago while driving down Midland Boulevard, she noticed the rainbow flag on the sign outside the United Church of Christ. She’s been an active member ever since.

Since the church became open and affirming before same-sex marriage was legalized in the U.S., they held commitment ceremonies in the church until 2015. After marriage between same-sex couples was recognized nationwide, Morgan said he didn’t see a spike in same-sex marriages in Nampa, but they’ve still held about five same-sex weddings since 2015.

Garside and McDaniel were not married in the United Church of Christ. They had a commitment ceremony at the YMCA Garside worked at in Washington on June 3, 2007, which they consider to be their wedding day. They formed a domestic partnership in 2008, which was then converted into a legal marriage after Washington legalized same-sex marriage in 2012.

THE RESPONSE

Compared to Washington, a more liberal state, Garside said people in Idaho were less accepting of their relationship when they moved. At her first job in Idaho, she said she wasn’t allowed to be open about her sexuality with her clients.

Garside’s family were some of their harshest critics. She said her step-brother wouldn’t allow she and McDaniel to sleep in the same room together because he didn’t want his children seeing them together. Her brother-in-law once compared her to a pedophile.

But McDaniel said more often people just assume they’re friends. And though their church is extremely progressive in a conservative town, they hear more positive responses than negative. Once while McDaniel was manually changing the letters on the sign outside the church, a man walking by stopped to commend them.

“We get people honking when we’re out there,” Garside said. “When they agree with what we’re putting up there.”

Erin Bamer is the city of Nampa reporter. Contact her at 208-465-8193, or ebamer@idahopress.com. Follow on Twitter @ErinBamer.

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