Tenth Alabama church burns

A tenth Baptist church burned in Alabama Saturday, and religious leaders were offering prayers and support for the affected congregations.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | February 12, 2006


A tenth Baptist church burned in Alabama Saturday, and religious leaders were offering prayers and support for the affected congregations.

A Saturday afternoon blaze severely damaged the Beaverton Freewill Baptist Church in northwest Alabama, near the Mississippi line. Beaverton is about 90 miles northwest of Birmingham.

Though authorities had not determined whether the fire was another in a string of arsons that have targeted rural Alabama Baptist churches, investigators have classified the blaze as "suspicious." Baptist is the predominant denomination in the area.

The National Coalition for Burned Churches and Community Empowerment - a multiracial, interdenominational coalition of clergy and laity whose places of worship have been burned or firebombed - announced it would hold a national church briefing next week in Atlanta, according to Rose Johnson-Mackey, the coalition's program director.

In the past, the coalition has offered technical support to congregations of burned churches.

Some churches were collecting funds for the affected congregations. The Rev. James L. Evans, pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala., said his congregation has taken up some money. But, he said, he has been searching for a coordinated relief effort that might be supporting the burned churches. "I am looking into that," he said. "Our church has taken up some money, but we haven't sent it yet. I'd rather try to support a coordinated effort than just pick one church and send it, though that may be what we do."

Seven church fires a week ago were ruled arsons, and two other church blazes in Alabama were also being investigated as arsons.

Authorities say race may not be a factor in the burnings, since half of the congregations were predominantly white. But pastors in the area have pointed out that arsonists may think these congregations were black because they were rural and often isolated. Others theorize the arsonists have a vendetta against Baptists, Christianity or religion in general. Still others have speculated the arsonists are setting fires as a form of sick entertainment.

Federal authorities are looking for two white men in their 20s or 30s. Several of the fires appeared to have been set near the altar in the sanctuary.


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