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.
Five fire departments responded to a fire at the Providence Baptist Church in Hickory, North Carolina. The Catawba County Sheriffs office has not determined the cause of the fire, but suspicious graffiti was found behind the church that said “ANTI-GAY HATE GROUP.” pic.twitter.com/xSr6VnGXmY
— Jhawn Paul (@PinkSheepNews) November 14, 2017
“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.
And the first thing getting cleaned up after the church fire? 250 shoe boxes filled with gifts for kids..some are smoke damaged pic.twitter.com/XYMZieHPqk
— Steve Ohnesorge WBTV (@WBTVSteveO) November 13, 2017
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.”
The SPLC has a notorious history of marking mainstream Christian organizations “anti-LGBT hate groups” for believing that marriage is between a man and a woman. Its “hate” list features Christian organizations like D. James Kennedy Ministries, the Family Research Council (FRC), Liberty Counsel, the American Family Association (AFA), and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
The SPLC even marked the pro-family Ruth Institute a hate group, citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church for stating that marriage is between a man and a woman. It also marked Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz an “anti-Muslim extremist” because he visited a strip club for his bachelor party.
Neither Providence Baptist Church nor Providence Road Baptist Church is about hate. LGBT activists too quickly assume that just because traditional Christian doctrine clashes with LGBT pride, Christians “hate” LGBT people. Rather, the Bible is clear that Christians are to love everyone, even their enemies, and churches routinely embrace people who suffer with same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria.
The SPLC’s “hate” branding — and especially its “hate map” — has inspired attacks in the past.
Most notably, in the summer of 2012, Floyd Lee Corkins II broke into the FRC in Washington, D.C., aiming to murder everyone in the building and place a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich by their head. In February 2013, Corkins pled guilty to committing an act of terrorism and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
During an FBI interrogation, the shooter said he targeted FRC because it was listed as an “anti-gay group” on the SPLC website. He got the address from an SPLC “hate map.”
The SPLC’s rhetoric may also have inspired Bernie Sanders supporter James Hodgkinson, who targeted a Republican Congressional Baseball Game practice this past summer, nearly killing Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.). Hodgkinson “liked” the SPLC on Facebook and the SPLC repeatedly attacked Scalise.
Notoriously, the SPLC also marked elementary schoos, middle schools, and high schools on a map similar to the “hate map,” because they were named after Confederate leaders. One of these schools, Stonewall Elementary School, was not even named after Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, but for a literal stone wall in the town. SPLC removed it from the list months after marking it.
Providence Baptist Church may remain unaccessible for a while. “The whole property is going to be a crime scene until we can determine what happened,” Cooksville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brian Weinrich told NBC Charlotte.
The church itself has received hefty damage, but no injuries were reported. “It’s just complete ruin down the hallway,” Pastor Richards told NBC Charlotte. He also said the church’s Sunday school classrooms downstairs suffered the most damage, but that the fire was so bad even the sanctuary on the main level suffered smoke damage.
“We’re a church that’s centered around love and compassion and the sincerity of the Christian faith,” Richards told NBC News. “We don’t have extreme attitudes about different things. Whatever has been done, has been against people that love and care and have a sincerity for serving God and others.”
The pastor added that he would gladly pray with whoever the perpetrator was, and offer him forgiveness. “I’d be glad to sit down and talk with ’em or pray with ’em, whatever. There’s no hatred from me even with what you see has been done to our church family here,” Richards said.
Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid did not respond to request for comment by press time. This story may be updated with comments from Reid and Pastor Worley.