Last Wednesday, the youth center at the predominantly black church in the Briar Creek section of Charlotte, North Carolina, was torched. The church was one of at least six black churches to be damaged by fire since the Charleston shootings on June 17, according to the Washington Post. Three of the blazes, including the one in Briar Creek, are being being investigated as arson.
“Honestly there had not been [racial tension],” said Rhonda Kinsey, co-pastor of Briar Creek Road Baptist Church. “No recent relevant race issues or class issues,” she said of the neighborhood. “And you really didn’t hear the 'you’re taking over our neighborhood' type thing."
Fusion spoke with Kinsey, whose husband is the senior pastor at the church, about the impact of the fire to their community. The Kinseys have been at the helm of Briar Creek Baptist for two and a half years.
Was the church always a black church?
At the beginning of the church it was an all-white evangelical church. And the past 20 years, I would say, the church has transitioned several times. The church had its first African American pastor, he was there for 20 years. And two and a half years ago Mannix [Rhonda’s husband] came on.
There are white congregants, but it’s more African Americans. We have a Hispanic family and two or three families from different countries in Africa. But the face of the church is predominantly black.
On our facility only one building suffered damage. The building that was set fire intentionally to was our youth building and gymnasium.
Are there other black churches nearby? Why do you think your church was targeted?
It is a crime. It’s being investigated as arson. However at this time they’re not leaning in the direction of it being a hate crime. But they cannot fully rule it out.
We are now being classified as a predominantly black church. There’s a few other baptist churches in the area that are not African American.
Do you believe it was a hate crime?
I don’t want to believe that, and I think we’re leaning more toward that. It’s just one of these things where we just don’t know. We can’t wrap our minds around what the motive or issue was. How and why did this happen?
Do you feel afraid?
Well, we don’t feel afraid. We are extremely concerned that whatever the reason, or root, there’s someone that was so bothered, devastated, angry or disturbed that they would resort to doing this kind of damage.
There’s the flip side: We’re extremely grateful that no one was hurt. Versus the Charleston shooting where lives were taken. It happened in the early morning hours, it was done at the youth building. However, the detectives are letting us know, that they have almost 100 percent proof that it was intentionally set.
Yesterday was the first Sunday since the fire. Did you hold a service?
We had no power or electricity. They’re still working on getting the inspections. The service was extremely, highly emotional but also high-energy and extremely hopeful. There was a great message of hope—that the pastor and I hope encouraged people. And the person who shared the word with us, a visiting preacher from Virginia, Kim Ware, wasn’t discouraged.
We had other pastors and members from other churches. close to 100 people were there. And we have a little under 100 members.
Do you feel discouraged by the church burning?
I won’t say I feel discouraged. I’m gonna be honest, it is heartbreaking, it does affect you. I would not be real if i didn’t say this does not affect me. But at the same time, I am one of God’s children and vessels. And in this life we live in, we have to have hope. All my hope was not in that building. But it affected many many lives, especially young people, because we’re left with the question: why? But this is a time for healing.
Do you feel satisfied with the investigation?
Yes. This is being fully investigated, it’s not being pushed to the side.
As I’m sure you’re well aware, black churches have been burned in this country since the early 1800s. If yours is in fact another black church burned in the name of white supremacy, what say you to that?
In terms of hate crimes, it’s a horrible thing. Hate harboring in anyone’s heart is a horrible thing. I really feel sorry for people. Especially if they hate based off color—that to me is just a ridiculously easy way out. Of course it’s horrible. However it is a part of America’s history. It would be truly heartbreaking [if the arson was determined to be a hate crime] but at the same time I would also stand to believe that God has a greater plan for it.
Tragedy all through history has one of the best effects: bringing people together. There’s more love than actual hate. Hate just brings about so much attention. But God and love always stand together. And that’s what we’re seeing. Whoever did this did it in the late hours and God is loving us in the waking hours.
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.