SPLC Hate Map Arson? North Carolina Church Burned and Spray Painted 'Anti-Gay Hate Group'

A map of the United States with various places marked as "hateful," including Providence Road Baptist Church in North Carolina.

Early Monday morning, a church in North Carolina went up in flames. When investigators checked the back of the church, they found a message spray painted in red: "Anti-gay hate group." Authorities are exploring whether the fire was an arson, and church members have suggested the arsonist mixed up their church with a nearby church on the Southern Poverty Law Center's (SPLC) list of "anti-LGBT hate groups."

"No one was there who saw it and no one has any real evidence of who did what," Ernie Richards, pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Hickory, N.C., told PJ Media in an interview Tuesday. He said he would leave it up to the investigators.

Richards' church has reportedly been mixed up with Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, a church twenty miles away on the SPLC's list of "hate groups." Richards told PJ Media, "I've had mail that came for their church and phone calls that came for their church. We've got 'Providence Churches' all over Carolina."

Whether or not the arsonist mixed up the churches, the "anti-LGBT" message was clear. The SPLC has a history of marking Christian organizations "anti-LGBT hate groups" for holding that marriage is between one man and one woman, a belief Richards follows because the Bible clearly teaches it.

"The Bible holds that true, I can't improve on what God teaches. If the Bible teaches these truths, then it's not my opinion," the pastor said. "I don't do it with a dogmatic attitude."

"Our church is just a church of kindness and compassion," Richards added. "We don't label, we just talk about what's right and wrong. We're just not a badmouthing group of people."

In a testament to that spirit, the church prioritized shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, packed with toys and presents for children in poorer parts of the world.

The SPLC marked Providence Road Baptist Church an "anti-LGBT hate group" in 2012 for offensive comments Pastor Charles Worley made that year. When PJ Media reached out to Providence Road, Worley was out visiting sick parishioners.

"If people believe that, they should just come to one of our services and it would contradict what they say," Gary, a church member who serves as custodian and secretary, told PJ Media. "We're by far no hate group at all. Everyone's welcome here at Providence Road -- we don't turn anybody away."