And they did a substantial amount of damage, over $1 million. What is more, people were actually inside the church at the time the fire was set. Thankfully, they were unharmed.
Now, this is not the first church (or other religious building) that has been targeted, not by a long shot, unfortunately. As many of you know, I am a retired UU minister, and a number of UU churches have been vandalized over the past few years, usually for two reasons: general support of the GLBT community, and for our open-mindedness regarding theology. One church in MD had its Peace Pole from its Meditation Garden ripped down and defecated upon by the vandals, other churches have had windows broken out, burning of leaves in the shape of a cross, and more. The worst was this year, the shooting in Knowxville, TNin which two Unitarian Universalists were killed, six injured, in the sanctuary during a service.
Many of you may recall that back in 1996, there was a rash of African American churches targeted by arsonists, primarily in Alabama, though 8 states in total were affected. By the time it was all over and done, over 30 churches were set on fire. It was a horrible time when racism reared its ugly, cowardly head. Sadly, a decade later, more churches were burned, some completely destroyed, in Alabama.
Synagogues in this country have also vandalized in the 21st century, one in Chicago on behalf of Palestine,two in North Miami had hateful speech written on the walls, and two in Boston had molotov cocktails thrown at them at the start of the Jewish New Year.
Even a Hindu temple in Minnesota was attacked, walls broken, windows shattered, statuary that took two years to receive destroyed. One of the trustees, Kumad Sane, said,
"We have had dreams to have this place for the past 30 years, we have worked so hard. Why would someone come here and do this type of action."
Sadly, these are just a few examples of this kind of hate crime.
You know, it takes a particular kind of person to attack a religious institution. Check that - a particular kind of COWARD. Not for nothing, but it is missing the point just a bit from what it is SUPPOSED to mean to be a person of faith. Little things like, "Do unto others as you would have done to you," or "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me." (Matthew,25:40). Or, when asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus said, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV) Regardless of the motivation, whether it be theological, social, or political, it is unacceptable. And cowardly.
The attack on Sarah Palin's church was all of these things. With one big difference, though - it was also personal. There is not a doubt in my mind why THAT particular church was targeted for arson. It would seem that Palin is concerned this was a hate motivated action because of her, too, since she apologized to her church for this hate act, in the event she was the cause.
Now let me say, my theology is about as far apart from that of the Wasilla Bible Church as it can be. Heck, I'm not even a Christian. But, there are some places that should be off limits for political hate speech, and churches/synagogues/mosques are just such places. Regardless of one's theology (and just to be clear, atheism is a belief system, too), to attack a building when there are people IN IT is reprehensible, to say the least.
But here's the thing. If it is true this church was a target simply because Sarah Palin attends it, and it appears that is the case, this kind of behavior is an extension of the despicable behavior we saw by Obama supporters this entire election season. When The One fails, no, refuses to speak out against sexist, degrading speech, or tee-shirts; when He refuses to speak out against violent action (like burning American flags on top of a $70,000 car, urinating on it, burning it with cigarettes, and scratching "KKK" into it simply because it has a McCain/Palin bumper sticker on it), it gives tacit approval to these kinds of actions. We saw it during the Bush/Cheney years, especially in terms of GLBT people in this country. And those of us in the liberal sector of the country decried it. Now some of the same people who decried it under Bush/Cheney are engaging in that kind of behavior, and worse, under PEBO. They could have KILLED someone in that church. And for what, because Gov. Palin exposed some of Obama's weaknesses? Because she was popular? What possible deluded reason could someone have for attacking her CHURCH? That is personal, and political (as things so often are), and sacrilegious. Whatever one's faith, whatever one believes, attacking a place of worship is, simply, unacceptable.
The people who did this are cowards. And criminals. We can only hope that they are brought to justice.
One last thing - the human spirit is resilient. And when it is tested, the vast majority of the time, it comes out all the stronger for it. When targeted with hate speech, or destruction based on hate, yes, there is anxiety, or fear, or anger. But there is also resolve, a banding together of community, and hope. It is this for which I pray for the people of Wasilla Bible Church. I do not need to agree with their theology to stand with them as people of faith who did not deserve to have the place where they pray, where they bare their souls, where they engage in communion and fellowship with one another and their higher power, where they laugh, and cry, where they pass major life milestones, defiled.
I'll let Rev. Chris Buice, the minister of the UU Church, Tennessee Valley, in Knoxville, someone who has lived through a hate crime perpetrated on his church, have the last word on this: