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Date: Fri, 5 Jul 1996 16:37:37 +600
Subject: Black Experience: (Fwd) black church fires
Sender: owner-blackexperience@listserv.prodigy.com

Black church fires

Editorial, Boston Globe, 5 July 1996

The flash of opposing powers is visible in nine Southern states where authorities are investigating suspicious fires at more than 30 black churches. The first power is the evil of racism. The second is the richness of religious discipline and devotion.

Although the label of ignorance attaches easily to haters, they are often surprisingly knowledgeable of their targets. The church is the most influential institution in many black communities, urban and rural, and promises the greatest potential for personal transformation. Haters may be discovering what both pastors and university researchers already know: Church attendance among black youth is a better indicator of who will escape poverty and despair than family structure or other single variables.

Racially motivated arsonists aim to block these exits.

The fires also strike at a time of intensifying internal debate within many of the nation's 67,000 black churches about the political and spiritual crises of America's inner-city neighborhoods. The power is shifting to denominations and individual congregations that put their faith into action in ways ranging from community cleanups to social policy analysis.

Ironically, the arsonists may actually advance opportunities for important discussions between black pastors and policy makers. The current focus is on adequate federal resources for the investigation. But contacts made now will be useful in later discussions on appropriate ways to utilize public funds for preschool programs, substance abuse treatment, adoption services and other social and economic development programs that many black churches hope to create or expand.

Americans of all denominations are ready to help. The National Council of Churches has begun a worthy $2 million campaign to aid in the rebuilding effort. In Boston, members of the Ten Point Coalition and other religious leaders are raising funds and recruiting volunteers.

The prophet Amos, frequently quoted by spiritual leaders, said: Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. That image, not charred remains, will represent the response of most Americans to these vile acts of arson and desecration.

K. L. Cabell
La Salle University