Church Fires Serve to Galvanize Black Church Community
The Jim Crow South – even if not alive and well – still has a heartbeat.
On March 26 of this year, St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, Louisiana, burned to the ground. Days later, on April 2, Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, Louisiana, turned to ashes.
On April 4, a pattern came to fruition, as Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, also located in Opelousas, saw its demise at the hand of flames.
A young, white male, Holden Matthews, has been charged with hate crimes, as well as receiving charges of arson.
In a New York Times article covering the crimes, author Jacey Fortin explains that “Under Louisiana law, hate crimes include acts done because of race, religion or ancestry, among other factors.”
Under that definition, burning down three beloved, Southern black churches serves as the perfect act of hatred. It effectively strips black people of their ability to praise God in His house, their ability to connect with their ancestors through the act of worship, and in essence, their ability to be black in the south.
The black church is important globally, but it was born in the south. It was born out of the oppression of our ancestors.
Black people latched onto the healing powers of God to deliver them from the dire circumstances associated with slavery and racism, both of which also planted roots in the south.
But there is a crucial bit of context that separates the acts of hatred and racism that took places hundred of years ago. And that bit of context is time itself.
Why does this fear – disguised as hatred – of black people still exist? Why is our connection to God still a point of contention for those outside of black culture?
If we knew the answer, maybe we could solve the problem. Trouble is, we don’t.
Interestingly enough, the fires were set while each church was void of occupants.
In other words, the perpetrator was not out to take lives…instead, his goal was to halt progress.
What establishment is more important in black society than our places of worship? Where do we congregate weekly to teach our children how to live virtuous lives? How to operate responsibly and respectfully? How to uplift our own community through teamwork and giving?
Who uplifts us more than our pastor? Where do we go to find the wisdom we hope to apply to our everyday lives? Where do we hug and kiss and laugh and cry more than our home away from home?
This perpetrator knew exactly what he was doing…but still, he failed.
He failed miserably.
One of the greatest lessons we learn in our black churches is resiliency. We learn how to lean on the Lord. We learn how to take tragedy and turn it into triumph.
And most of all, we learn that there’s nothing on earth that can defeat us as long as we commit to the will of the Lord.
We’ve already won.
Days after the fires, New York Times published another article. It was entitled, “‘They Didn’t Burn Down Our Spirit’: Louisiana Black Churches Defiant Amid Fires.” It is a must-read.
You know what I love most about the black church? It’s called the black church. Not just ‘church.’ Not ‘African American church.’
Black church is a thing. Black church is strong.
And the black church family in these small Louisiana towns just got stronger.
The perpetrator started the very thing he feared.
Just as Rev. Harry J. Richard of Greater Union Baptist church put it, “They burned down a building.”
And with that, they set fire to a movement.
Notre Dame Fire Sparks Support for Black Churches
Mere weeks after the church fires in Louisiana, arguably the world’s most famous church – Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France – nearly met its end, as an electrical short-circuit sparked a fire that caused significant damage to the historical building.
But a fire is not all that was sparked.
Donations aimed at rebuilding the portions of Notre Dame that were lost in the fire immediately rolled in. In fact, in only two days, over $1 billion were donated to rebuild the cathedral.
And in response to that outpouring of support, activists across the nation called on U.S. citizens to support the three Louisiana churches in their efforts to rebuild.
The donations began to flood in a day after the Notre Dame fire and six days after the churches posted their original GoFundMe campaign online:
The fundraiser initially sought to raise $600,000 for the churches, but after reassessing the damages, the amount was tripled to $1.8 million. On [April 16], the campaign had raised less than $100,000 according to the New York Times. By [April 17], the campaign had raised roughly $1.4 million. By [April 19], the campaign had raised more than $2 million, exceeding its donation goal. – VOX.com
The GoFundMe account for the church fires ended after raising $2,145,930.
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