First Pentecostal Church in Holly Springs, Mississippi, has been burned to the ground.
Investigators found misspelled graffiti all over the destroyed property that read, "Bet you stay home now you hypokrits."
The graffiti has led investigators to believe that the church was intentionally burned down in an arson attack.
They previously defied lockdown restrictions, allowing members to congregate for Bible study. After that, the church made headlines for suing government officials over lockdown restrictions.
But on Wednesday, the church had burned to the ground due to what appears to be arson.
It is unclear if the retaliation is due to the lawsuit against the government or the previous Bible study where 40 congregants gathered.
More details on this heartbreaking story below:
If this had happened to a mosque or a synagogue, chances are it would receive wall-to-wall media coverage and be denounced as a "hate crime."
However, despite the fact that a Christian church was targeted, no one in the media seems to be willing to call this an "anti-Christian hate crime."
Regardless, this clearly appears to be a targeted attack.
The Washington Post confirms that disturbing graffiti was discovered in the aftermath of the fire:
A North Mississippi church that filed a lawsuit about a month ago questioning the city’s restrictions on gatherings burned to the ground with a disturbing, misspelled message scribbled just before its steps: “Bet you stay home now you hypokrites.”
First Pentecostal Church in Holly Springs, which sits at the border with southern Tennessee, collapsed into smoldering ashes and rubble early Wednesday after an explosion ignited the sanctuary, Fox 13 Memphis reported.
Marshall County Sheriff Department criminal investigator Kelly McMillen told the outlet that authorities believe the fire was an arson based on evidence located around the scene and a nearby hill.
A large blast from the back of the building blew out the front, according to the news station. Spray paint cans were found near the church.
Pastor Jerry Waldrop told the station that it was hard for him to wrap his head around knowing someone might have deliberately destroyed the church.
“We have really wracked our brains,” he said. “We have no idea, no enemies.”
Church members embraced and consoled one another as authorities searched what was left of their place of worship for clues, Fox 13 Memphis reported.
The loss of the church has drawn rebuke from nearby residents and the state’s governor, WATN Local 24 reported.
Gov. Tate Reeves (R) tweeted Thursday that he was “heartbroken and furious” over the church’s burning.
“What is this pandemic doing to us,” he tweeted with a picture of the destroyed church. “We need prayer for this country.”
Hopefully fingerprints were left on the spray cans so that investigators can track down the perpetrators who committed this crime.
Fortunately, no one was injured or killed from the church fire.
The apparent arson attack comes amid heightened national tensions on how to best reopen the country while keeping citizens safe.
It has been confirmed that the entire church has been destroyed and that the damage is "a total loss."
None of it is salvagable and an entirely new building will need to be constructed.
While investigators haven't announced whether they believe the arson is due to the church's lawsuit, many in the community believe that the attack was a direct retaliation to the legal charge.
According to NBC News:
Stephen Crampton, attorney for the church, told WMC that he has no doubt that the fire was connected to the lawsuit.
"To find that that graffiti is spray painted in there — 'I bet you stay home now, you hypocrites,' right — seems very clearly directed at this particular lawsuit and the church's stand for its own Constitutional rights," he said.
The lawsuit deals with alleged police disruption of a Bible study and Easter service.
Holly Springs City Attorney Shirley Byers said the church was issued a violation on April 10 after about 40 people had gathered inside and were not social distancing. The city amended its local order in late April to allow drive-thru church services. The lawsuit says social distancing is practiced inside and that services are held indoor only when weather prohibits outdoor services.
Reeves has never outright prohibited worship services and has classified places like churches as "essential" in state stay-at-home orders.
But, he has encouraged churches to use alternatives like online and parking lot services.
Earlier this week, Reeves released guidance on resuming in-person faith gatherings, which include cleaning and disinfection, holding separate services for vulnerable populations and creating a 6-foot buffer between household groups.
Holly Springs is a community of around 7,600 in the northern part of the state near the Tennessee border, a little more than 40 miles southeast of Memphis.
Mississippi has begun reopening other parts of its economy and activities. On Tuesday, Reeves signed an order allowing places that include tattoo parlors and dance studios to reopen.
Churches are a place of sanctuary and peace.
But the media portrayal of Christian churches has made the risks of apparent attacks like this too common.
Prior to this attack in Missisippi, a church in Kentucky was vandalized by piles of nails left in the parking lot.
The Kentucky church was holding drive-in services were members stayed in their cars.
The nails were meant to destroy the tires of anyone who attended the service, but fortunately, the nails were discovered and cleaned up before congregants arrived.
This pattern of hatred and discrimination towards Christians must stop now!
This should be a time of unity and understanding, not hatred and division!