A Mississippi church was burned to the ground on May 20, with graffiti left in the parking lot that indicated the arson was intended to punish the congregation for continuing to gather despite the coronavirus.
The church’s pastor had also filed a lawsuit challenging the city of Holly Springs’ gathering restrictions amid the virus epidemic.
“Bet you stay home now you hypokrites” read the message in white spray paint in the church’s parking area.
“We’ve kind of racked our brains and we have no idea,” said Pastor Jerry Waldrop. “No enemies that we know of. We don’t know anyone that we even think could be capable of doing something like this.”
Waldrop had sued the city of Holly Springs in April, alleging police officers had disrupted a church Bible study and Easter service. Holly Springs City Attorney Shirley Byers said nearly 40 worshipers inside the church building were not practicing compulsory social distancing on April 10 when a violation citation was issued.
Congregants had been keeping separated while indoors and indoor services were held only when bad weather would not allow outdoor gatherings, the suit said. The complaint also sought a temporary restraining order to keep city officials from preventing services.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves’s safer-at-home order, set to expire May 25, allows churches to operate as essential businesses but limits the size of indoor gatherings. The Republican governor has also asked pastors to follow public health recommendations to hamper the spread of the virus. Reeves issued guidelines this week for places of worship to restart services indoors.