A few months ago, the world looked on in collective horror as the Notre-Dame de Paris burned. Numerous people have expressed feelings of loss over the tragedy. Our own President Trump reported he personally called Pope Francis and offered condolences on behalf of the people of the United States. Trump tweeted: “It is heartbreaking to see a house of God in flames.”
President Trump said he offered American resources to aid in rebuilding the historic church. He reportedly made the same type of call to President Macron.
Yet back here in the United States, during a 10-day period, March 26-April 4, 2019, three historic black Baptist churches in and around Opelousas, Louisiana, were burned. Holden Matthews, 21-year-old son of a deputy sheriff, has been arrested on charges of arson as a hate crime. On a social media account, Matthews, who is white, reportedly wrote he “can’t stand all these Baptists around here, bunch of brainwashed people trying to find happiness in a religion that was forced on their ancestors just as it was on mine. I wish more blacks people would look into ancient beliefs of pre Christian Africa.”
These black churches are historic, too, as relevant to the New World as Notre Dame has been to the Old World. They represent the fabric of the southern United States as black and white Americans, after the Civil War, struggled through Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. During the Jim Crow era, the burning of black churches by the Ku Klux Klan was not unusual. Finally, with the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the monumental Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. Over time, integration, free elections and equal rights more often characterized our nation.
Throughout our history, the black church has been a place of solace, strength and comfort, as well as activism, for the black community. It was one of the very few places where people of color were treated with respect and dignity.
Now three black churches have been burned. Thankfully, as people step up and donate to reconstruction efforts for the Notre Dame Cathedral, people are also donating to the churches in Louisiana.
Nevertheless, it’s discomforting the president of the United States offers “thoughts and prayers” and resources to a church in France but no words regarding the burning of black churches in his own country. Even though Vice President Mike Pence visited the churches and met with their pastors and various community leaders, where was Trump? Where are Trump’s condolences? Where are Trump’s promises of aid?
As one black commentator sarcastically noted, since France is for white people, unlike Puerto Rico, Trump is more than happy to offer aid.
These black churches may not be global cultural icons, they may not hold priceless artistic treasures. Their architecture offers none of the flourishes gracing Notre Dame Cathedral, no gargoyles perching high above. But in their plainness is strength and clarity, a banishing of all distractions. They have proven the cultural center of many black people’s lives in Louisiana. And in that they demonstrate a quiet stability that all Americans should admire and embrace, a sanctuary for the oppressed, a resource for civil activism driven by biblical values.
Another modern-day tragedy: the racism tearing apart our society. Those who cannot tolerate differences of color can only accept some form of racial separation along with the attendant violence necessary for its enforcement. Our leaders should always condemn such incendiary forces corrupting us. They should lead us to a better place.
As Americans again look forward to the Fourth of July, we must remember this date is wrapped up in liberty and against tyranny and terrorism. We must never allow hate to define us. And so we continually pledge ourselves to, “One Nation, Under God and Indivisible.”
E pluribus unum. Out of many, ONE.