50K start-up to assist black Southern churches burned after Charleston

by Kimberly Pennington , National Correspondent |

(REUTERS/Clarendon County Fire Department)Fire crews try to control a blaze at the Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina in this June 30, 2015 handout photo. The African-American church, which was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan 20 years ago, was the scene of another blaze on Tuesday, officials said, though the cause was not immediately clear. The fire comes amid a rash of fires that have erupted at black churches across the U.S. south, at least two of which have already been declared as deliberate.

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (Christian Examiner) -- The first black president of the predominantly white Southern Baptist Convention is supporting a fund set up by his denomination's mission board to assist black churches whose building have been destroyed by fires recently.

Fred Luter, Senior Pastor of New Orleans' Franklin Avenue Baptist Church and National Mobilizer for the North American Mission Board, said the same thing could happen to any church.

"We are living in a crazy day and time when there is no respect for God, no respect for the Bible or for houses of God. So these kinds of things could happen anywhere," Luter said.

Luter encouraged pastors to participate in the donation drive and asked them to consider how they would feel if their church buildings had burned down.

The SBC's North American Mission Board has designated $50,000 to establish the fund to assist African-American congregations whose buildings have been destroyed by fires in recent weeks.

The missions organization is also soliciting donations from churches and individuals for this effort.

Six predominantly African-American churches have caught fire since June 21. The fires have occurred in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and South Carolina.

Concerns about racially-motivated arson as a possible cause of the fires have swept the nation since the incidents occurred in the aftermath of a June 17 mass shooting at Charleston, South Carolina's Mother Emanuel AME church, although federal law-enforcement officials recently concluded, according to a July 3 report in Time Magazine, the fires are unrelated. 

A seventh fire occurred June 30, but investigators suspect a lightning strike caused that fire.

NAMB president Kevin Ezell said the reason for the fires is irrelevant. "Regardless of the causes of these fires, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to come alongside and offer whatever assistance we can."

Even though only one of the burned churches is a Southern Baptist church, monies from the North American Mission Board church fire fund are available to all African-American churches impacted by the recent fires regardless of denomination.

The Southern Baptist Convention made a similar effort in 1996 when several arson-related fires burned African-American churches between 1995 –1996. Southern Baptists raised $724,000 which helped 98 congregations in 17 states impacted by arson-related fires.

The North American Mission Board promised that 100 percent of donations to the current fundraising drive will go to help the churches affected by the recent fires.

People interested in making donations can give online at https://donations.namb.net/church-fire-fund.

Donations can also be made by phone at 866-407-6262, toll free, or by a check payable to NAMB with "Church Fire Fund" on the memo line. Those checks should be mailed to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543.