Churches ‘will go on’

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 13, 2006

Pastor James Posey hasn’t decided on a sermon topic for this Sunday.

“My sermon will probably point out the need for a strong belief in God,” he said when first asked.

A few minutes later, he considered using the Prayer of Jabez, from a passage in I Chronicles. And the pastor’s staple, John 3:16, is another possibility, Posey said.

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But whatever theme he chooses for his sermon at Cedar Grove Baptist Church on Sunday, it will not be one of anger or vengeance toward the arsonists who reduced Morningstar Missionary Baptist to a heap of ashes Tuesday.

“Hate is not the way, not ever; our God is a God of love,” Posey said, after touring the remains of his church with U.S. Rep. Artur Davis.

“God will forgive all sins, even the sins of the man or men who burned down this church.”

Posey will preach from the pulpit of Cedar Grove Baptist, the other church on his circuit, at which he preaches on alternating Sundays. At least four or five members from Morningstar, he said, would make the drive to worship with their pastor.

“They need to be encouraged and hold their heads high, because God is still able and he still sits on the throne,” Posey said.

Davis echoed the pastor’s words while viewing the site of the churches Friday.

“Whatever your goal was, if it was to intimidate, or to express hatred, you have dreadfully failed,” Davis said to the arsonists, who damaged or destroyed nine churches in less than four days. “Because the burning of these churches doesn’t do anything. These congregations will worship just as vigorously on Sunday as they would any other day.”

Accompanying Davis on the trip to each of the four churches burned in his west Alabama district was Cindy Yarbrough, the Birmingham field office director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She was on hand to “make sure the pastors and congregations of these churches are aware that there are federal funds available to help you rebuild.”

There is currently $3 million available in guaranteed loans to help rebuild churches like Morningstar, Yarbrough said.

“We want to make sure that all of these churches come back, and come back strong,” Yarbrough added.

Davis said he would help guide the pastors and congregations through the process of applying for rebuilding loans.

“Make no mistake,” he said. “Every single one of these churches will be rebuilt.”

Davis used strong words to condemn the attacks on all nine Alabama churches affected by the week’s arson spree.

“Anyone who commits an offense like this against a house of the Lord … I can’t even find the words,” Davis said. “I call it a hate crime. It takes an incredible amount of meanness to attack a church, especially a small rural one like this.”

Davis said he first learned of the four recent church burnings while attending the funeral of Coretta Scott King, a Marion native and the widow of Martin Luther King Jr.

Ironically, Davis was scheduled to speak at a Black History program at Galilee Baptist Church in Sumter County next Sunday, he said.

While at the site in Boligee, Davis got a thorough update on the investigation from Special Agent in Charge Guy Thomas, who is with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ national response team. Though he shared few new leads with the media, he did confirm that “accelerant dogs,” used to detect gasoline or other flammable substances in fires, were used in the investigation. He did not confirm whether they “had any hits.”

Davis lauded the response of investigators in making the church fires a priority on every level of law enforcement.

He also had some stern words for the arsonists themselves, vaguely described, so far, as “two white males in a dark sport-utility vehicle.”

“Whoever did this, if you’re in this community, you are going to be caught,” Davis said. “There is no reason for anyone to be intimidated by these people. Their luck is going to run out, and they’re going to be caught.”