Alabama church fires spotlight long-running
|A UMNS photo by Alice Smith
The Rev. Daniel Donaldson speaks with Joe Hamilton before the press conference on church burnings.
Feb. 21, 2006
By Alice M. Smith*
ATLANTA (UMNS) — Arson burnings of
churches had slipped from the nation’s conscience until fires this month in
Alabama brought them to the forefront again, but the fact of the matter is
church burnings never stopped over the past 15 years.
That information was hammered home at a media briefing Feb. 17 in Atlanta,
along with a plea to the public to help burned churches rebuild and to law
enforcement to adopt new measures for responding to fires and helping prevent
them. The press conference was sponsored by the Charleston, S.C.,-based National
Coalition for Burned Churches, in partnership with the Center for Democratic
In Alabama, 11 churches have been burned this month. All are Baptist, with
an almost equal division of predominantly white and predominantly black congregations.
“The activities in Alabama is not new for Alabama,” said Rose
Johnson-Mackey, the coalition’s program director. “The cluster
burnings really did get (people’s) attention, but it’s been going
on in Alabama for quite some time, and not only in Alabama but throughout
From 1990 to 2000, some 1,507 churches burned and were
labeled either arson, attempted arson, suspicious or undetermined, Johnson-Mackey
said. From 2000
to 2006, the coalition documented a “minimum” number of 600 church
In Alabama, five geographically close churches burned Feb. 3: Rehobeth Baptist
in Randolph; Ashby Baptist and Old Union Baptist in Brierfield; Pleasant
Sabine Baptist in Centerville; and Antioch Baptist in Antioch. Another church,
New Harmony Holiness Baptist in Fairview, burned the night before.
Less than a week later, on Feb. 7, another cluster of four churches burned:
Morning Star Baptist in Boligee; First Dancy Baptist in Pickens County; Galilee
Baptist in Panola; and Spring Valley Baptist in Gainesville. Still another
church, Beaverton Free Will Baptist in Lamar County, burned Feb. 11.
The Rev. James Posey, pastor of Morning Star Missionary
Baptist, said at the press conference that his church is “dedicated to rebuilding,” although
almost nothing was salvaged from the fire.
“One thing for sure,” he said, “whoever
(caused the fire) does not know God, to step on his sacred and holy ground
and burn his building.”
The pastor of another burned church, the Rev. Glenn Harris
of Spring Valley Baptist, labeled the destruction of his church and others
an act of “terrorism.”
“We want to say to the nation ... (that) the perpetrators have failed
in their effort,” he said. “We still believe in what we believe
in, the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The coalition was established in 1997, the year after former President Bill
Clinton declared church burnings a national law enforcement priority. Since
then, the organization has sought to keep an official record of church burnings
and has supported rebuilding destroyed churches.
Johnson-Mackey said that both the United Methodist Board
of Global Ministries and the board’s Women’s Division have supported the coalition’s
work, and that a financial gift from the board helped establish the center.
In the past several years, United Methodist Women have been involved in data
collection around hate crimes and church burnings.
|A UMNS photo by Alice Smith
Rose Johnson-Mackey (left) and Joe Hamilton speak at the Feb. 17 press conference.
Some of the biggest supporters from the faith-based community in rebuilding
efforts have been United Methodists, Johnson-Mackey said, along with Presbyterians,
American Baptists and the United Church of Christ.
“United Methodists have been involved in rebuilding since 1996,” said
Joe Hamilton, associate director of the Southeastern Jurisdiction office
of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission.
“Last year, we helped rebuild Sandridge Baptist Church in Opelika,
Ala. There are four others listed on our Web site now, and volunteers are
actively being recruited” for churches in Summerville, S.C., Gloster,
Miss., Greenville, Ala., and Angier, N.C., Hamilton said.
Hamilton noted that several of the churches recently burned in Alabama are
Southern Baptist, and that their denomination would likely take the lead
in rebuilding efforts. However, some of the churches lack such denominational
resources and will need assistance, he said.
The Rev. Daniel Donaldson, pastor of Salem Missionary Baptist Church in
Fruitland, Tenn., and volunteer coordinator for the coalition, knows firsthand
about being a victim and receiving help, and then in turn helping others.
His church burned Dec. 30, 1995, but a year later, the congregation was
able to begin worshipping in a new building constructed with the help of
volunteers. Since then, his church has sent 12 to 13 teams to help other
“God is looking at us as his children to respond,” he said. “We
can’t allow Satan to even think he came close to winning a victory.”
The Rev. T. G. Mackey Sr., president of the coalition
and pastor of Mt. Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, S.C. — which was burned in 1995 by
Ku Klux Klansmen — also knows the anguish of arson-induced fire destroying
a house of worship and the challenges of rebuilding.
“Churches continue to burn, and somebody needs to be there to help
them recover,” he said. “The Bible says we are our brothers’ keepers.
... Thousands of churches must step up and be accountable during this time
For more information, visit www.ncfbc.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.