CLAREMONT, Calif. – Vandalism of a church's Nativity display that includes depictions of gay and lesbian couples was being investigated as a hate crime, police said.
The damage at Claremont United Methodist Church occurred late Saturday or Sunday morning.
The display's three panels feature silhouettes of three hand-holding couples -- two men, two women and a heterosexual pair. The vandal knocked over the depictions of the gay and lesbian couples but left the straight couple alone.
"It's a hate crime based on it being church property as well as the wooden box knocked over that depicted two males holding hands," Claremont police Sgt. Jason Walters told the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.
The display created by artist church member John Zachary includes the phrase "Christ is born" and a Star of Bethlehem but no traditional manger figures. For the past six years, Zachary has designed and built a scene on the church's front lawn. The scene has had controversial themes before, but this was the first about gay couples, the Daily Bulletin said.
Zachary said the artwork suffered at least $3,000 worth of damage. The exhibit had three panels that weighed 600 pounds each.
The Rev. Dan Lewis said he was saddened by the incident.
"We have members of our church who are gay and lesbian who it sends a very personal message to," said Lewis, who learned of the vandalism on Christmas Day. "I tried to say in worship on Sunday morning that we will not let it trouble us."
Ed Kania, 60, an openly gay member of the church, called the act of vandalism disappointing, especially because Claremont is a generally seen as a progressive college town.
"It's a reminder that although there are pockets of acceptance, not everybody is accepting," he told the Los Angeles Times. "We're all kind of disappointed, but we're using it as a rallying point."