The sanctuary of a Mississippi church whose leaders refused to close down during the coronavirus pandemic has burned to the ground.
An explosion and subsequent fire at First Pentecostal Church of Holly Springs is being investigated as an arson after officials found a spray-painted message in the church’s parking lot: “Bet you stay home now, you hypokrits [sic].”
The church is in the midst of a legal battle to remain open during the lockdowns. Its leaders filed a lawsuit against local authorities last month, claiming the congregation was harassed for remaining open, despite the fact that Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves’ (R) executive orders deemed churches an “essential” business exempted from the lockdown measures.
In the suit, Pastor Jerry Waldrop, who has led First Pentecostal for more than 30 years, claimed local law enforcement officers contradicted the governor by disrupting a Bible study as well as the church’s Easter service April 12, according to WLBT-TV.
Waldrop “held outdoor services when possible but would hold them indoors while practicing social distancing during inclement weather,” according to the complaint. The pastor also sought “a temporary restraining order to keep the city from preventing services inside the church building.”
“It is very clear local municipalities can have guidelines that are more strict than the governor’s guidelines,” Reeves said Wednesday, “but they cannot have guidelines that directly conflict with what we have put in place.”
As far as the church is concerned, Waldrop sees the arson as a targeted attack.
Stephen Crampton, senior counsel for the Thomas More Society and the lawyer representing the church, told Fox News the fire is a sign of “growing hostility toward churches, across the board.”
“And now, here are churches like First Pentecostal that are sort of stirring up the waters by being outspoken and somewhat firm about seeking to protect their constitutional rights.”
Members of First Pentecostal garnered attention last month, when police shut down the congregation’s Easter service. In an effort to “prove a point,” churchgoers traveled to a nearby Walmart.
As they walked around the store, which was recorded by Waldrop’s wife and uploaded to YouTube, members continued to note they were not allowed to gather for a worship service but are permitted to file into a Walmart without any issue.
Eventually, police broke up the group and insisted they vacate the premises.
Standing in the Walmart parking lot, Waldrop encouraged preachers “to take a stand” against a threat he described as “more than the coronavirus.”
“This is greater, this is deeper than the coronavirus,” he said. “People need to wake up and see it. And I’m sayin’ stay safe, but are the people that’s being contacted [sic] this coronavirus — are they getting it in the churches? Where are they contacting this virus? Where’s it coming from? Where’s it originate? Where they gettin’ these viruses at?”
The pastor went on to say he hasn’t heard anything about “church people” contracting the coronavirus. It should, of course, be noted churches in Georgia and Texas have had outbreaks as a potential result of hosting services.