The pastor of First Pentecostal Church of Holly Springs in Mississippi said his church was burned to the ground because his congregants wanted to worship in-person despite the coronavirus restrictions on houses of worship.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that in America, in our church — the First Pentecostal Church of Holly Springs, Mississippi — I would see armed police standing in our aisles, ordering us to shut down our worship services,” he wrote Wednesday.
“Even worse, I never thought that in America I’d experience what it was like for those armed policemen to hand me an official government document, ordering our community of faithful to cease and desist worshiping on Easter Sunday and to depart the House of God.”
Police had also allegedly shut down a Bible study in which the pastor said they were following social distancing guidelines.
The judge in the case did not block the city’s stay-at-home order, saying that it did allow for drive-in church services.
But the court battle was only the start of the church’s problems.
On May 20, the church was burned to the ground.
Republican Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves responded to the fire on Twitter, saying that he was “heartbroken and furious.”
I am heartbroken and furious. In Mississippi, a church was just burned to the ground. They had been trying to open services. There was graffiti on the lot which read “Bet you stay home now you hypocrites.”
What is this pandemic doing to us? We need prayer for this country. pic.twitter.com/TdGHqs9evv
— Tate Reeves (@tatereeves) May 21, 2020
“Last Wednesday, someone burned down our church, leaving only a smoldering mass of debris and our dreams,” Waldrop wrote.
“They left graffiti, trying to shame us for worshiping together in our church.”
A graffiti message was spray-painted in the pavement next to the debris that read, “BET YOU STAY HOME NOW YOU HYPOKRITS.”
“Who would do such a thing? Why would anyone want to destroy a sacred place where the faithful venerate God in their own way, in a way that does not intrude on others’ rights or disrupt their lives?” Waldrop wrote.
“But critics tell us that we are selfish, and that by gathering we are endangering other people who might believe differently.”
The pastor added that his congregation was practicing social distancing rules by keeping some rows of pews empty.
“Does the Constitution guarantee shoppers greater rights to assemble than people of faith?” he asked.
The cause of the fire still is under investigation, with some fire investigators believing it may be arson-related due to the graffiti left at the site, the DeSoto Times-Tribune reported.
As for Waldrop, he said the fire won’t stop the congregation from worshiping together.
“We truly believe that liberty is a blessing from God. Just as the United States of America is a blessing from God. Those two blessings are meant to reinforce one another, and to deny the freedom to enjoy one of the blessings is to destroy the other,” he wrote. “Based on these premises, we will continue to worship together and to fight together for our and every American’s right to partake in the blessings of freedom.”
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