A retired United Methodist pastor fatally set himself on fire in a shopping center parking lot in his hometown of Grand Saline, Texas, on June 23.
His death was a final act of protest against social injustice, according to family members and the notes the pastor left behind.
The Rev. Charles R. Moore, 79, lived in Allen, Texas, near Dallas, but apparently drove himself to Grand Saline, in east Texas, on June 23.
At about 5:30 p.m., he parked his car and walked to the parking lot, where he doused himself with gasoline and started the blaze, said Chief Larry Compton of the Grand Saline police.
Initially, Moore survived, thanks to bystanders who retrieved a store fire extinguisher and put out the blaze.
He was taken by helicopter to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, and died there late that night, Compton said.
Moore was a longtime elder in the Southwest Texas Annual (regional) Conference, where in addition to serving churches he advocated for the abolition of the death penalty and for gay rights within The United Methodist Church.
Family members said he clearly remained deeply concerned about those issues and others, including race relations, but gave no indication that he was contemplating suicide in any form.
“It was a complete shock,” said the Rev. Bill Renfro, also a retired United Methodist pastor and a relative of Moore’s by marriage.The Tyler (Tex.) Morning Telegraph obtained from the Grand Saline police a copy of a note Moore left on his car. In it, Moore laments past racism in Grand Saline and beyond. He calls on the community to repent and says he’s “giving my body to be burned, with love in my heart” for lynching victims, for those who lynched and for Grand Saline citizens, in hopes they will address current racial issues.
Renfro provided United Methodist News Service with copies of other explanatory statements Moore left, apparently written in the weeks before his suicide. Family members found the notes in the study of the Allen home Moore shared with his wife, Barbara, Renfro said.
The typed notes relay Moore’s frustration over The United Methodist Church’s positions on homosexuality, over the death penalty, and over Southern Methodist University’s successful bid to be home to the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
In one note, hand dated June 16, 2014, Moore wrote: “This decision to sacrifice myself was not impulsive: I have struggled all my life (especially the last several years) with what it means to take Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s insistence that Christ calls a person to come and die seriously. He was not advocating self-immolation, but others have found this to be the necessary deed, as I have myself for some time now: it has been a long Gethsemane, and excruciating to keep my plans from my wife and other members of our family.”