‘I don’t think it’s any secret that there’s a growing hostility toward churches across the board…’
An unidentified suspect reportedly vandalized and set fire to the First Pentecostal Church of Holly Springs on Wednesday morning, leaving a message spray-painted on the church property.
First #Pentecostal Church in Holly Springs, Mississippi, refused to close due to #COVID19 restrictions and in retaliation the #Church was set ablaze today. The Arsonists spray painted these words in the pavement, “BET YOU STAY HOME NOW YOU HYPOKRITS”. pic.twitter.com/FjvrBTt1Qk
— Rev. Stephen M Leach (@revstephenleach) May 20, 2020
Stephen Crampton, an attorney for the church, told WHBQ-TV that this message makes it clear that the church was targeted for “being outspoken and somewhat firm about seeking to protect their constitutional rights” by refusing to close during the pandemic.
“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,” he said. “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.”
First Pentecostal has vocally opposed the city’s executive orders, the first of which was issued on March 23.
The church’s pastor, Jerry Waldrop, even filed a lawsuit against the city in April after police officers handed him citation for holding an Easter service. As a result, the church has received a slew of hateful comments online in recent weeks, Crampton added.
“There is just a segment [of people] that takes issue with the church standing up, and the church just being the church,” he said.
Maj. Kelly McMillen of the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department said his office is investigating the fire as as an intentional act of arson. Officers found a can of white spray paint and a flashlight at the scene, he said.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said he is “heartbroken and furious” about the fire.
I am heartbroken and furious. In Mississippi, a church was just burned to the ground. They had been trying to open services. There was graffiti on the lot which read “Bet you stay home now you hypocrites.”
What is this pandemic doing to us? We need prayer for this country. pic.twitter.com/TdGHqs9evv
— Tate Reeves (@tatereeves) May 21, 2020
But Waldrop said the church will continue to meet, even if they can’t do so within their building.
“We are going to keep the faith, and we’re going to keep doing what we have always done, and maybe not on this location,” Waldrop said.
“I’ll get with our faithful people, and maybe we’ll rent a building or whatever we need to do for the time being,” he continued. “We have the means, so whatever it takes, that’s what we will do. … It’s just hard to wrap your head around the idea that someone may have orchestrated this or done this.”