The First Pentecostal Church of Holly Springs in Mississippi has been burnt to the ground in what appears to be an act of arson and is suspected by some to have been in response to the church’s legal battle to continue holding services despite the coronavirus crisis and subsequent lockdown orders.
According to Fox 13, investigators say the fire was started between 2 and 4 am Wednesday by an explosion near the back of the building. Investigators also found several spray paint cans that were likely used to spray an ominous message on the church’s parking lot prior to the fire. Maj. Kelly McMillian of the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department confirmed the fire is being treated as a criminal act of arson.
“We do believe that based on the evidence and what we have seen at the scene and on top of the hill this was an arson,” McMillen stated.
“Bet you stay home now you hypokrits” was one of the messages spray-painted on the church’s parking lot, Stephen Crampton, Thomas More Society senior counsel and lawyer for the church, told Fox News Thursday.
“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,” Crampton 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.”
He added, “They’ve had bad comments [sent their way] on social media. … There is just a segment that takes issue with the church standing up, and the church just being the church.”
Jerry Waldrop has been the pastor of the church for 31 years.
“We’ve tacked our brains and we have no idea,” Waldrop said. “No enemies that we know of. We don’t know anyone that we even think could be capable of doing something like this.”
As WLBT 3 reports, the fire comes after Waldrop filed a lawsuit in April against the City of Holly Springs. The 14-page document alleges local police officers disrupted the church’s Easter service and then a mid-week bible study 10 days later. The documents say Pastor Waldrop held church services outside when possible but moved them indoors during inclement weather but still maintained social distancing rules.
The legal complaint also sought a temporary restraining order to prevent the City from further disrupting services inside the church building.
WLBT 3 says the issue started as a result of the City of Holly Springs excluding churches from their list of “essential” businesses while Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves’, on the other hand, did include churches. U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills issued an order at the end of April allowing for First Pentecostal to stay open for drive-thru services.
Crampton has represented First Pentecostal Church in court since Pastor Waldrop was cited for holding Easter services.
“These were outrageous violations of these parishioners’ rights,” Crampton said at the time of the U.S. District Court’s ruling. “On both occasions, Holly Springs law enforcement personnel ignored the fact that all church members present were practicing social distancing and complying with all applicable health requirements. Bible study attendees were threatened with criminal citations for violation of Holly Springs’ Stay Home Order.”
“Due to the threats and the citation of Pastor Waldrop, the church members were fearful of holding services on Sunday and exercising their constitutionally protected rights,” he added.
In the drive-thru ruling from Mills, the court said it “acknowledges that the First Amendment guarantee of the Free Exercise of religion is one of the most important ones set forth in the Bill of Rights, and, without question, it grants the Church, in this case, the right to assert certain rights which, say, a barbershop would have no right to assert.”
Crampton pointed out on Fox that the church has mostly been up against local leaders and not the governor’s office, specifically citing Mayor Kelvin Buck and the city council as the main opposition.
Governor Reeves appears to side with First Pentecostal Church in their legal complaint, saying in a news conference Wednesday, “It is very clear local municipalities can have guidelines that are more strict than the governor’s guidelines, but they cannot have guidelines that directly conflict with what we have put in place.”
No matter what the outcome of the lawsuit is, Pastor Waldrop seems determined not to let the fire discourage him.
“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,” said Waldrop. “I’ll get with our faithful people, and maybe we’ll rent a building or whatever we need to do for the time being.”
The pastor indicated they plan to rebuild on the same sit and also said the church has the means to do whatever it takes to rebuild.
“We have the means, so whatever it takes, that’s what we will do,” Waldrop said. “We have a tight group that’s been faithful, so whatever means are necessary, that is what I will do.
“It’s just hard to wrap your head around the idea that someone may have orchestrated this or done this,” he said.
It truly is hard to wrap your head around this happening in America. Burning a church to the ground simply because of a differing opinion on the authority state’s have to shut down churches in the midst of a pandemic is unthinkable.
Lift up Pastor Waldrop and his congregation in prayer. They have a long road ahead of them.
Continue to pray for revival in America. It is needed more than ever!
If you appreciate the work we are doing to fight the leftist assault on our values, please consider a small donation to help us continue. Thank you so much!