The near destruction last Friday of 850-year Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris to fire is unarguably a major loss to the Catholic Church, Parisians and visitors from around the world who have had experiences associated with this ancient icon.
International media coverage of the fire, the history and subsequent efforts to raise funds and take preliminary steps to rebuild the church have been wall-to-wall, around the clock. Clergy, politicians, dignitaries, celebrities and Catholic pilgrims - worldwide - have weighed-in with commentary, prayers and regret.
While there should never be competition to determine whose loss is greater or more significant when it comes to faith or religious-based calamity, it is difficult to ignore when the whole country seemingly pauses to recognize the accidental burning of a church in Europe, while three African American churches in one state, within 10 days, intentionally burned, are reported as a matter-of-fact, almost a footnote in the 24-hour news cycle.
Unfortunately, it is typical in America for blatant crimes committed against African Americans, individually or as a community, if reported at all, to be announced with little or no fanfare, or any context regarding the larger implications or ramifications associated with sometimes heinous acts.
In Louisiana, St. Mary Baptist Church in the Port Barre, was torched on March 26th; Greater Union Baptist Church,set ablaze on April 2nd, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, burned on April 4th, both of Opelousas, the Parish seat. All three churches were within 10 miles of one another.
The accused arsonist in each case, Holden Matthews, the 21-year-old son of a deputy sheriff, directed his wrath towards African American Baptists, referring to them as “a bunch of brainwashed people trying to find happiness in a religion that was forced on their ancestors just as it was mine.”
Matthew pleaded 'not guilty' at his arraignment last Monday. He's accused of starting the fires with gasoline and has been charged with hate crimes. It's been speculated that his motivation, in part. resulted from the influence of the 'black metal' music genre. Matthews is a member of a black metal band called Vodka Vultures.
Though not nearly the age of the Notre Dame Cathedral, each of the three African American churches were over one hundred years old. Evidenced by the church leadership of the Civil Rights Movement, these African American churches represented the bedrock of former slaves seeking their deliverance into freedom in America.
As a 2000 year-old city, 850 year-old Notre Dame is to Parisians and Catholics what a 125 year-old Baptist church is to Africans brought in bondage to America 400 years ago. More than a sacred place of worship, the African American church is the only institution controlled by slaves and former slaves that provided the faith, courage and support to deliver African Americans from bondage.
If the hellish treatment of Jews by their Nazi occupiers in Germany during World War II, sending six million to their deaths by the mostly grisly means, can rightly be The Holocaust, what terminology can describe more than twelve million souls absconded from their ancestral homes in Africa and perishing under brutal slavery over the course of 400 years?
Attacking and destroying African American churches in America in 2019 signals that a system that enslaved African Americans for more than 250 years, maintained them in Apartheid (Jim Crow) for 100 years, and has fought the equal rights amendment for 50 years, has not relented to equality.
Paying scant attention to African American church burning is a stark indication of how far we've yet to rise.