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From the Summer, 1997
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Is <title>Church News from Washington by Mark Tooley

Church News from Washington

by Mark Tooley

No Evidence Found for Church Arson Conspiracy

A recently released report by the National Church Arson Task Force has confirmed that there never was any evidence of an upsurge in racist, fiery attacks upon black churches, despite the media spotlight of last year. The report told us little that is new. Insurance statistics already had shown that 500–600 churches suffer arson every year. And no comprehensive data ever indicated that black churches were any more vulnerable to attack than white churches.

Still, the federal report was greeted with headlines expressing surprise. For most Americans, it was news that the task force had found no evidence of a racist plot, found that more white churches than black churches were suffering arson, found no evidence that racism had motivated more than a small minority of arsonists, and found that only two or three out of the 199 suspects so far arrested for church arson have had ties to white supremacist groups.

The chief originator of the church arson mania, the Atlanta-based Center for Democratic Renewal (CDR), admitted in March 1997 that white churches were burning at five times the rate of black churches. According to the National Council of Churches (NCC), which was the CDR’s chief partner in pushing church burnings as a media event, 20 percent of America’s churches are black.

Despite this admission, and despite the federal task force’s findings, the church arson lobby continues to fulminate. At a June 8–10 NCC-sponsored convocation in Washington called “No More Burnings, No More Hate,” speakers repeated the flammatory rhetoric. They were preparing for “Phase II” of the NCC’s Burned Churches Project, which will go beyond the church reconstruction to focus on eliminating the “root causes” of racism.

Featured speaker Jesse Jackson blasted conservatives for their stances on welfare reform and affirmative action, chided President Clinton for supporting government downsizing, faulted the media for losing interest in church arson, criticized black preachers who focus on salvation to the exclusion of politics, and mocked the racial reconciliation efforts of the evangelical Promise Keepers movement. “The right-wing church supported slave laws and segregation laws,” thundered Reverend Jackson, as he slammed conservative Christians as especially prone to racism.

The NCC said it will work closely with Reverend Jackson on its “Phase II” activities, which will proceed in part thanks to the generosity of the former “Queen of Mean,” Leona Helmsley, who has donated $1 million to the NCC’s Burned Churches Fund. Over $11 million in total has been contributed to the Fund.

NOW and Religious Groups Fight Promise Keepers

In two press conferences held in the Methodist Building on Capitol Hill this past summer, Patricia Ireland of the National Organization of Women (NOW) denounced Promise Keepers as the “third wave” of the Religious Right. (The first two were the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition.) She announced a national “No Surrender” campaign for feminists wanting to resist Promise Keepers’ influence among Christian men.

“The Promise Keepers speak about ‘taking back America’ for Christ, but they also mean to take back the rights of women,” said the NOW president. “Their call for ‘submission’ of women is one that doesn’t have a place either in the pulpit or the public sphere of the 1990s.”

Ireland also promoted a video exposing the “hidden agenda” of the Christian men’s movement, which was produced by the New York-based Center for Democracy. The same video was enthusiastically reviewed at the Spring 1997 board meeting of the National Council of Churches. In the video, Promise Keepers leader Bill McCartney is scored for his prolife stance and his support for a state referendum in Colorado opposing special rights for homosexuals. A clip from a McCartney interview on the “700 Club” is shown as evidence of Pat Robertson’s influence on Promise Keepers.

Other groups joining NOW in the Methodist Building were the Feminist Majority, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum, Equal Partners in Faith (an alliance involving the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Interfaith Alliance), plus Church Women United, which includes the women’s organizations of most mainline Protestant denominations and some Orthodox women’s groups.

“The Promise Keepers have created a false veneer of men taking responsibility, when they really mean men taking charge,” said Ireland. “Their targets are women, lesbians and gay men, and anyone who supports abortion rights or opposes an authoritarian, religiously-based government.”


Mark Tooley directs the United Methodist committee of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (www.ird-renew.org) in Washington, D.C.

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