Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Presenting Today's Cynical Look

It was at once disturbing, yet heartening to read on May 13

A week earlier, someone had rearranged the letters on the sign outside the tiny church, defacing it with a racist - and misspelled - message: No Nigers Welcome.

Whom to blame is still a mystery. Police have said they were investigating, and church members say they haven't heard anything more.

On Sunday, they carried on as usual, including with plans to commemorate the church's 214th anniversary next month...

Since last weekend, Mount Zion has received letters of support and $560 in donations from the community, said Fisher, a church member and volunteer.

Kingsway Middle School is also planning field trips for students to learn the church's history, Fisher said.

"So, something good can come out of everything that happened," she said.

Noting the unusual spelling, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Karen Heller remarked "so the hoodlums were racist and stupid."   Perhaps cowardly, too, as the African Methodist Episcopal church has only 11 congregants, though fortuitously its resolve seems to be in inverse proportion to the size of its membership.

Twenty-two months ago, the hands were broken off a statue of the Virgin Mary at two Roman Catholic churches roughly thirty miles away in Cherry Hill, NJ.  Only about 5 miles from there, in what police believed was an offense related to the others, more than 20 statues had been reported vandalized on the property of another Catholic church.

But this sort of behavior is not limited to southern New Jersey.   Worse, in February, 2010 Russell United Methodist Church was destroyed as it fell victim to

one in a string of 11 fires in east Texas churches this year. Eight have been ruled arson, leaving residents and churches on edge as authorities work to find the person -- or persons -- responsible.

"We certainly can connect several of them," said Tom Crowley, special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Dallas, Texas, office.

Two fires that broke out Monday had not been ruled arson as of Wednesday, but are considered suspicious, he said.

There is no clear theme linking the fires, which have struck various church denominations -- Methodist, Baptist, Church of Christ Scientist -- on different days of the week and at different times of the day, he said. And while the churches are in small towns -- such as Wills Point, which has a population of about 3,800 people -- not all the fires were in remote locations, Crowley said.

Nor is such criminal behavior limited to the Age of Obama.   In early 1996, President Clinton formed the National Church Arson Task Force in response to a "sharp rise in the number of reported attacks on our nation's houses of worship, especially African-American churches in the south."   Two-and-a-half years later, the co-chairpersons  issued their group's report and cited the number of incidents investigated, suspects arrested, and convictions obtained.  The NCATF concluded "The Federal effort to prosecute the arsonists, rebuild the burned houses of worship, prevent more fires and heal racial divides continues. There is more work to be done. We are committed to seeing the task completed."

The task force was formed in response to a public outraged over what was reported as a sudden rash of arson fires at churches.  Most people were unaware that, as the NCATF noted, from January 1, 1995 through September 18, 1998, there had been 670 arson fires, bombings, or attempted bombings at houses of worship.  So although acts of violence against churches and related buildings have declined significantly since the mid-1990s, we are unlikely to know without an investigation.

There will be little attention focused on the small African-American church in Gloucester County, NJ, nor on whether this is a continuing (or recurring) national problem- not, that is, until and unless we can label it "terrorism."

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