A Seventh-day Adventist congregation is one of several black churches in the Southern United States that have been set on fire by arsonists in recent weeks. The College Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church in Knoxville Tennessee was targeted on June 22. Hay bales and bags of dirt were set on fire outside the church, and a church van was burned. Authorities have ruled the event an act of arson, but have said that it did not amount to a hate crime.
As a young black Adventist woman it shames me to admit my default mode is silence. I’m the one politely nodding at whatever you say. I guess that means I haven’t seen church as a true safe space to share my story. What’s worse, I haven’t pushed myself to hear the stories of those around me and ask how I can help. Scrolling through Twitter this past weekend, I realized the lack of safety for church goers, specifically at black churches, has extended rapidly beyond emotional issues. It’s extended beyond the nine deaths from the church massacre in Charleston.
For example, Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina caught fire this Tuesday, twenty years after being burned to the ground by the KKK. Since the shooting at Emanuel AME Church, at least six predominantly black churches in the South have caught fire. Other churches include:
While all fires are still under investigation, authorities are concerned about the growing trend. In California alone, police have noticed a spike in KKK flyer distribution in various cities. Marches for and against the use of the Confederate flag have sprung up across the South. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has taken Twitter by storm. Sermons and Spectrum forums aside, the truth is we’ve remained passive.
While we may not have the power to influence every church in every denomination, we can influence our families, friends and home church. In my lifetime I’ve seen empathy reduced to a quick prayer, liking a Facebook status or debating the political implications of tragedy. It’s like we don’t quite know how to take that first step of action. Or we don’t know if we should.
When tragedy happens, our first response should be seeing what action we can take and opening safe conversation for church members who are impacted. Believe me there is grief. Our church is not immune to the tragedy of this world. The pain we see in the news and throughout the week is the same pain hiding behind the “Happy Sabbath!” of the polite woman taking her seat. And we have the chance to show we care. We have the chance to wake up and do what Jesus would do.
We’re currently researching ways to help the College Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church and other congregations affected by the recent fires. If you have pertinent information or specific ideas on how to make a difference, please leave a comment below.
Kelly Phipps, MBA, lives in Loma Linda, CA and works in healthcare philanthropy.