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ICC Note

A second rash of church burnings in Alabama is a reminder that even in the United States there is violent opposition to the gospel.

Christian Post (02/07/06) – Less than a week after a string of fires struck five Baptist churches in Alabama , four more churches were damaged or destroyed by fires, a state official said Tuesday.

The four new fires, which reportedly occurred overnight, were about 10 to 20 miles from each other, near the Mississippi line. Ragan Ingram, a spokesman for the state insurance agency that oversees fire investigations, said it was too soon to say if there was any link between the sets of blazes but told The Associated Press, “Obviously we’re going to investigate these as suspected arsons.”

According to reports, all nine Alabama churches struck since last Thursday were Baptist – the dominant faith in the area – and all were in sparsely populated areas off rural roads. The FBI is looking into whether fires are a civil rights violation under laws covering attacks on religious property.

“With these new church burnings, the faith community calls upon the Bush Administration and the Department of Justice to use every resource possible to apprehend those behind the fires,” stated the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, after receiving news of the latest fires. The Christian Defense Coalition and the National Clergy Council were in Alabama this past weekend to tour the burned churches and help establish a national fund for their rebuilding.

“It must be stressed that when a church building is burned, it is more than just an attack on a building. It is an attack up the core values that church represents and an attack upon religion itself,” Mahoney said in a statement released Tuesday. “Americans must all work together to ensure places of worship are honored and protected regardless of the faith tradition they embrace.”

According to Ingram, the most recent fires damaged Dancy First Baptist Church near Aliceville and Spring Valley Baptist Church near Emelle and destroyed Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church near Boligee and Gallilee Baptist in Panola.

Last Thursday and Friday, three churches – Rehobeth Baptist Church in Randolph , Ashby Baptist Church in Brierfield and Pleasant Sabine Baptist Church in Centreville – were burned to the ground, while two churches – Antioch Baptist Church in Centreville and Old Union Baptist near Randolph – were damaged by fire.

Of the five, four are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which said it would provide financial help and bring mobile chapels while the churches rebuild. SBC officials also said they would provide monetary help to the fifth church, Pleasant Sabine, which is not a member of the association but was also destroyed.

The affiliations of the most recent fire-struck churches have not yet been confirmed.

Agents investigating the five Bibb County fires said Tuesday that they were looking for a dark-colored sport-utility vehicle in connection with the blazes.

Members of Old Union Baptist Church in Brierfield told AP in interviews that they saw a dark Nissan Pathfinder near the building as they arrived to put out a fire shortly after 4 a.m. Friday.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said the state is offering a $5,000 reward in the investigation, and another $5,000 reward was posted by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on Saturday.

Investigators believe all five Bibb County fires were linked, Ingram reported. He said they are pursuing several leads but “the leads haven’t led us to a specific suspect or a motive.”