Church ArsonrnManiarnby Mark TooleyrnArecent report by the federally appointedrnNational Church ArsonrnTask Force has confirmed that there neverrnwas any evidence of an upsurge inrnracist, fiery attacks upon black churches,rndespite the media spotlight of last year.rnThe report told us little that is actuallyrnnew. Insurance statistics showing thatrn500-600 churches suffer arson every yearrnwere largely ignored, and no comprehensiverndata ever indicated that blackrnchurches were any more vulnerable to attackrnthan white churches.rnStill, the federal report was greetedrnwith headlines expressing surprise. Forrnmost Americans, it was news that therntask force had found no evidence of arnracist plot, found that more whiternchurches than black churches were sufferingrnarson, found no evidence thatrnracism had motivated more than a smallrnminority of arsonists, and found that onlyrntwo or three out of 199 suspects so farrnarrested for church arson have had ties tornwhite supremacist groups.rnActually, the chief originator of thernchurch arson mania, the Atlanta-basedrnCenter for Democratic Renewal (CDR),rnhas admitted that white churches werernburning at five times the rate of blackrnchurches. According to the NationalrnCouncil of Churches (NCC), which wasrnthe CDR’s chief partner in pushingrnchurch burnings as a media event, 20rnpercent of America’s churches are black.rnDespite this admission, and despiternthe federal task force’s findings, thernchurch arson lobby continues to fulminate.rnIn June, at a NCC-sponsored convocationrnin Washington called “No MorernBurnings, No More Hate,” speakersrnrepeated the NCC’s and the CDR’s usualrninflammatory rhetoric. They werernpreparing for “Phase 11” of the NCC’srnBurned Churches Project, which will gornbeyond church reconstruction to focusrnon eliminating the “root causes” ofrnracism.rnFeatured speaker Jesse Jackson blastedrnconservatives for their stances on welfarernreform and affirmative action, chidedrnPresident Clinton for supporting governmentrndownsizing, faulted the media forrnlosing interest in church arson, criticizedrnblack preachers who focus on salvation tornthe exclusion of politics, and mocked thernracial reconciliation efforts of the evangelicalrnPromise Keepers movement.rn”The right-wing church supported slavernlaws and segregation laws,” thunderedrnJackson, as he slammed conservativernChristians as especially prone to racism.rnThat evangelicals formed the backbonernof the Abolitionist movement he seemedrnnot to recall. He warned of a “rightwing”rntheology that threatens to infectrnboth white and black churches, and ignoresrnthe liberal social action that Jacksonrnbelieves is mandatory for the church.rnThe NCC said it will work closely withrnReverend Jackson on its “Phase 11” activities,rnwhich will proceed in part thanks tornthe generosity of the former “Queen ofrnMean,” Leona Helmsley, who has donatedrn$1 million to the NCC’s BurnedrnChurches Fund. Having raised over $11rnmillion in total, the NCC and the CDRrnhave little reason to admit that theirrnclaims about church arson as an emblemrnof surging American racism have notrnwithstood close scrutiny.rnAt the Washington convocation, arndefiant CDR spokesperson condemnedrnthe work of the National Church ArsonrnTask Force, declaring that its report hadrn”sabotaged” the CDR’s racial justicerneffort. Just a few months ago, the CDRrnreleased its own report purporting tornprove a nationwide conspiracy againstrnblack churches, orchestrated by whiternsupremacist groups.rn”We’ll continue to work with you,”rnsaid the CDR’s Rose Johnson to the federalrntask force. “But we don’t have to buyrnor believe anything you say. We’re notrngoing to accept that.” Meanwhile, NCCrngeneral secretary Joan Brown Campbellrninsisted that most white churches thatrnhave burned are actually “raciallyrnmixed.” She explained, “That seems tornincite as much as anything else.”rnRace and racism are fixations for thernreligious left, for whom sin is nearly alwaysrnsocietal (racism, corporate greed,rnmilitarism) and rarely personal (adultery,rnintoxication, envy). While attendingrnthe “No More Burnings, No More Hate”rnconference, 1 found more theologicalrnand ethical sophistication among somernof the pastors of burned churches whornwere there as guests of the NCC. Arnwhite Pentecostal pastor from Iowa, forrnexample, told me that his church hadrnbeen burned by a drug addict, who wasrnupset over his Christian girlfriend’s attachmentrnto the church. Because thernnearly all-white church conducts an I lispanicrnministry, the NCC had classifiedrnhis church as a potential victim ofrnracism. The NCC loaned a trailer forrnSunday School classes, but the churchrnreceived cash support from the ChristianrnCoalition, Promise Keepers, and the NationalrnAssociation of Evangelicals. Thernpastor said he did not entirely agree withrnthe political agenda of the NCC andrnwished there were more emphasis on localrnchurch ministry.rnA black pastor from Mississippi toldrnme his church had burned and that thernpolice found no evidence of arson, butrnhe was still suspicious. Some localrnchurches had been supportive, but thernlocal newspaper had nearly ignored thernburning. At a special service of reconciliationrnat the church, the town’s mayorrnshowed up intoxicated and berated therncongregation for the volume of its music.rnPresident Clinton, probably realizingrnthat the church arson hype is now exhausted,rndeclined the NCC’s invitationrnto address its Washington meeting. Werncan only hope that the country hasrnlearned its lesson and will decline thernnext invitation to join the religious left’srncrusade against phantom threats.rnMark Tooley is a research associate at thernInstitute on ReUgion and Democracy inrnWashington, D.C.rnLANGUAGErnThe Latest DopernFrom Washingtonrnby Frank RuddyrnTarry not, I pray you. Madam,” WalterrnRaleigh is supposed to have cautionedrnQueen Elizabeth, “for the wingsrnof time are tipped with the feathers ofrndeath.” As Harold Macmillan observed arnfew years ago: “Civil servants don’t writernmemos like that anymore.” Some haverntrouble just speaking the language.rnNicholas Burns, the State Departmentrnspokesman and Assistant Secretary forrnPublic Affairs, said at a recent press conferencernthat Madeleine Albright’s religionrnwas “a personal matter for she andrnher family.” Ouch!rnBurns is not alone, of course, but tornNOVEMBER 1997/47rnrnrn