BANGOR, Maine — A war of words fought with chalk and a mop is being waged on Bangor’s sidewalks.
Across downtown this summer, Bangor residents and workers have noticed colorful Bible verses, stenciled in chalk, sometimes appearing overnight, sometimes in the midst of the afternoon lunch rush.
The group behind the work is the Mansion Church of Bangor, which meets weekly in Columbia Street Baptist Church. About a dozen members of that church, led by Valance Bohm and his fiancee, Victoria Irizarry, gather in small groups to scrawl passages from the Bible. They call the effort “Sidewalk Scriptures.”
Not everyone appreciates their work.
On Monday afternoon, Scott Hall, a 40-year-old Bangor resident, saw the group working on a chalking in downtown Bangor’s West Market Square.
He picked up a bucket of water and a mop, walked to the square and started mopping up the latest verse as Irizarry and Bohm were working on it. This sparked a theological debate about morality and its relation to religion that lasted several minutes.
After Hall left, Bohm started over from the beginning.
The verse in question on Monday is from the Book of Psalms (14, 53): “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God. They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.’”
Hall said he didn’t appreciate that message, as it vilifies people who choose not to follow a religion and assumes those people don’t have a moral compass. He also hasn’t appreciated other biblical verses being etched temporarily onto the sidewalks for public view, including several at last weekend’s American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront.
“It’s speech that I personally find offensive,” said Hall, who moved to Bangor three years ago. “I don’t like to see it; I don’t think everybody else should have to see it.”
Bohm and Irizarry say they use the sidewalk as a medium for evangelization. They argue the sidewalk messages are less “in-your-face” than other forms of proselytizing, such as reading scripture out loud on the sidewalk.
Most walk by without comment, some stop to start a conversation, others scoff or laugh. This is the first time someone has stopped to undo the group’s work, Bohm said, adding that he believes people who take offense to the messages “need prayer.”
“Ninety percent of the time, people are very supportive,” he said.
Hall has removed other messages recently. Smears of other messages he’s mopped up can be found in other spots downtown. He views the stenciling as graffitti.
The city doesn’t have any ordinance regarding the use of chalk on city sidewalks or in city parks.
“We have no prohibition against using chalk on sidewalks, and we also have no prohibition against erasing chalk on sidewalks,” City Manager Cathy Conlow said Monday. “I think they ultimately both have the right to do what they want.”
Hall said he acknowledges that the group has a right to write their messages, but he argued he also has the right to mop them up.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.