I found out a couple weeks ago via the pastor’s grapevine that another church had been struck by an arsonist. Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church – a neighboring congregation within the 27th Ward in St. Louis, where New Northside Missionary Baptist Church is located – was severely damaged when a duo of vandals (caught on surveillance video) rolled a burning tire into the sanctuary.
Just like that, Pastor Titus Irving saw years of labor for structural and aesthetic work go up in smoke. Just like that, a church and a pastor, who invested and ministered to a community others had long neglected, went up in smoke. Just like that, a sacred and peaceful refuge for congregants and the community went up in smoke. Just like that, a symbol of our cultural heritage was disrespected, denigrated, and destroyed by suspects who were not white, but black.
This one in a series of assailments is yet another troubling sign illustrating a lack appreciation of our cultural ancestry, the Black Church. An appreciation of this heritage has been reinforced by the many books, lectures, sermons, and classes I have taken or sat through over the years; yet this idea was never more viscerally real to me as to when the church I pastor was struck by an arsonist last October.
The suspect, who awaits trial on the 2015 churches fires, is African-American. Last fall, as I tried to alert the community to this alarming series of events – and it was found that the suspected perpetrator was not a racist extremist, as historically was the case – suddenly the black community fell silent.
Joe Madison, the Black Eagle, interviewed me on his syndicated satellite radio show and made this telling observation: “The fact that the perpetrator is black is actually more alarming than if he were white, because a line has been crossed. We shouldn’t even want this seed to be in our collective minds that our heritage can be disrespected by one of our own.”
I’ve repeated what he said over and over, and it is why everyone in our community should be outraged and very concerned at the recent string of fires, graffiti and vandalism striking our churches all over this city. Police analysis of the evidence that the Black Israelites’ beliefs – or someone pretending to hold those beliefs or wanting to smear that group – accounts for the messages being spray painted on over a dozen churches.
Whoever heard of a Jewish person vandalizing a synagogue? You won’t, because the synagogue represents the Jewish cultural identity. Whether practicing or not, Jewish people respect their heritage.
The Black Church represents the cultural heritage of African Americans. Every advancement, every victory, every sector of African-American life, including music, can be directly tracked through the church. Our education, once completely outlawed, started in the church. Our only refuge throughout slavery, Reconstruction, the nadir of racism, Jim Crow segregation, Civil Rights Movement days, was and still is the church.
Our people may not attend or support our heritage as in days past, but surely every African American should be in uncontested agreement that no hand of disrespect should be laid against our collective cultural heritage: the church. There should be some things we just don’t do. Attacking our heritage should be one of them.
Anyone with evidence regarding these crimes in encouraged to call CrimeStoppers at 866-371-TIPS (8447). All calls are anonymous.
Rev. Rodrick Burton is pastor of New Northside Missionary Baptist Church.