In a commentary published Wednesday by USA Today, the Mississippi pastor whose sanctuary was burned to the ground said he and his congregants “will pray for the soul and peace of mind” of the person who set fire to their place of worship.
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Jerry Waldrop, senior pastor of First Pentecostal Church of Holly Springs, said he and his congregation will continue to gather together to worship despite the wreckage, which came after the small church faced backlash for hosting services during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We recognize that not everyone shares our belief in the Word of God as revealed in the Bible,” he wrote. “We are not offended that others don’t share our firmly held belief that gathering together to worship and to study the Bible is an essential duty and necessary to the growth of the church and its members. And we will pray for the soul and peace of mind of someone who would harbor such hatred that he would take from us our cherished spiritual home.”
Waldrop went on to make his case the freedom of religion is central to the U.S., and as such, “we will continue to worship together and to fight together for our and every American’s right to partake in the blessings of freedom.”
Last week, an explosion and subsequent fire burned First Pentecostal Church to the ground. Police launched an investigation after discovering the graffiti message: “Bet you stay home now, you hypokrits [sic].”
The 30-year veteran pastor argued in a lawsuit against local authorities that law enforcement has overstepped their power and contradicted Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves’ (R) executive orders, which deemed churches an “essential” service exempted from statewide lockdowns.
In the suit, Waldrop argued police contradicted Reeves’ directives when they disrupted a Bible study and the church’s Easter service April 12.
The pastor noted he has followed all social distancing guidelines and has held services outside when weather permitted.
Waldrop garnered attention last month, when after the congregation’s Easter service was disrupted, churchgoers went to a nearby Walmart to “prove a point” that gatherings are permitted in stores but not in places of worship.
After police ordered the church members to leave Walmart, the preacher argued the restrictions “are deeper than the coronavirus.”
“People need to wake up and see it,” he continued. “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?”