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Church battling coronavirus stay-at-home orders was burned to the ground

Published May 23rd, 2020 3:07PM EDT
Mississippi church burning
Image: Kelly McMillen/AP/Shutterstock

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  • A Mississippi church burning this week served as the latest flashpoint as coronavirus-related restrictions on gatherings around the country continue to generate extreme reactions and protests.
  • Local officials in Holly Springs, Mississippi, suspect the church burning was the work of an arsonist.
  • President Trump on Friday called for churches to be allowed to reopen immediately.

The smoldering embers left from a small-town Mississippi church fire this week — which authorities believe was the work of an arsonist due to parking lot graffiti that read: “Bet you stay home now you hypokrits” — comprise one of the starkest examples to date of how coronavirus-related strictures are prompting outlandish reactions in opposition to them.

The First Pentecostal Church in Holly Springs was burned down on Wednesday, about a month after a lawsuit was filed on behalf of the church against the coronavirus-related restrictions on large gatherings in the city. “We’ve kind of racked our brains and we have no idea,” church pastor Jerry Waldrop told reporters. “No enemies that we know of. We don’t know anyone that we even think could be capable of doing something like this.”

In a tweet following the church fire, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said he was upset about what happened and that the country is in need of prayer:

The parking lot graffiti scrawled outside First Pentecostal Church seemed to be a tortured reference to the lawsuit the church filed last month against the city of Holly Springs that alleged police officers had interrupted a Bible study and Easter service. According to Holly Springs City Attorney Shirley Byers, almost 40 worshipers were not following social distancing guidelines inside the church, leading to a citation issued on April 10.

Mississippi has seen more than 12,000 coronavirus cases thus far, along with 580 deaths as of the time of this writing, according to the latest official figures.

On Monday, Gov. Reeves’ “safer-at-home” order for the state is set to expire, paving the way for churches to begin operating as so-called “essential” businesses. Indoor gatherings would still have to be limited, however, and the churches are also being asked to still follow public health guidelines related to things like social distancing to keep the virus from spreading out of control.

Meanwhile, while speaking to reporters on Friday, President Trump called for churches across the country to be reopened immediately and said they should be regarded as those so-called essential businesses by state and local officials. Specifically, Trump’s call was that state governors should get the process started on church reopenings — even though churches have been seen in some places as a nexus of community spread of the coronavirus. In California, for example, a single person exposed 180 people to the virus there. Churches in other states have also defied orders and said they’ll continue to meet, no matter the risk.

“Today I’m identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues, and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump said at the White House. He said that if governors don’t act quickly or impede this in any way, that he will “override” them, though he didn’t cite any relevant authority that allows him to do so.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.