Churches are starting to reopen and hold in-person services after months of stay-at-home orders.
But some aren’t happy about it, and the backlash in some cases is getting violent.
One church recently discovered just how bad things have gotten when arsonists burned it to the ground.
First Pentecostal Church in Holly Springs, Mississippi fought local authorities for the right to reopen and hold services as lockdown came to a close—but their first in-person services were followed by unimaginable tragedy as the church was burned to the ground.
Throughout pandemic restrictions, the city of Holly Springs has refused to consider churches “essential” businesses, despite Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves’ statement that churches were necessary.
“It is very clear local municipalities can have guidelines that are more strict than the governor’s guidelines, but they cannot have guidelines that directly conflict with what we have put in place,” Reeves stated.
The governor supported the reopening of churches—with the use of appropriate social distancing guidelines, of course—but Holly Springs refused.
The city even issued a citation to Pastor Jerry Waldrop, who has led First Pentecostal for over 30 years, after he held a church service indoors.
And local police interrupted First Pentecostal’s Easter service and mid-week Bible study in their efforts to keep the church from meeting.
So Pastor Waldrop filed a lawsuit against the city to remind the community of his church’s right to meet. He didn’t think that it would end in tragedy.
At first, Waldrop and his congregation thought that they had won. First Pentecostal was allowed to conduct in-person services outside, and when they were forced to move inside due to inclement weather, the congregants did their best to maintain social distancing.
A restraining order stopped the city and local police from interrupting services again, but the community was stirring up complaints against the church.
And it wasn’t long before Waldrop and his congregation saw the effects.
First Pentecostal burned to the ground in late May after an explosion towards the front of the building. Investigators believe it was an act of arson.
There was nothing to salvage from the ruined building, except a few remnants of crude graffiti.
Pastor Waldrop and others from the church were heartbroken and overwhelmed when they saw the remains of their building—and they weren’t the only ones.
“I am heartbroken and furious,” said Governor Reeves in a public statement. “A church was just burned to the ground. They had been trying to open services.”
“What is this pandemic doing to us? We need prayer for this country.”
Reeves and police investigators revealed that the arsonists had spray painted graffiti on the front of the church building before igniting the explosion.
“There was graffiti on the lot which read ‘Bet you stay home now you hypocrites.’”
It’s apparent that some community members felt the church should stay closed—even as businesses and other public spaces reopen around the country.
Stephen Crampton, a lawyer working with First Pentecostal, stated that this isn’t the first such incident of anti-religious violence.
“[There is] a growing hostility towards churches” since the beginning of the lockdown, he said, especially those churches who are pushing for the right to reopen and worship in person.
“We’re in a time where I don’t think it’s any secret that there’s a growing hostility toward churches, across the board,” Crampton reflected.
“And now, here are churches like First Pentecostal that are sort of stirring up the waters by being outspoken and somewhat firm about seeking to protect their Constitutional rights.”
“They’ve had bad comments [directed at them] on social media,” the lawyer continued. “There is just a segment that takes issue with the church standing up, and the church just being the church.”
Tensions are rising due to the lockdown, and many communities have chosen to lash out at churches and their congregations, though not always in such violent ways.
Pastor Waldrop and his congregation are still mourning the loss of their building, but they’re working hard to imitate the love of Christ in this trying situation.
They’re convinced that rebuilding the church, however hard it is, will be an important part of witnessing to their community.
“We have the means [to rebuild], so whatever it takes, that’s what we will do,” Pastor Waldrop stated firmly.
“We have a tight group that’s been faithful, so whatever means are necessary, that is what I will do.”
Praise God for Pastor Waldrop’s faithfulness, and please pray for the Holly Springs community as First Pentecostal rebuilds.
It’s difficult to be apart from our churches for so long, but Christians across America have an opportunity to display the love and meekness of Christ. Let’s follow First Pentecostal’s example and trust God for each new day.