Possible Copycat Arson Target the Church of Jesus Christ Twice

Possible Copycat Arson Target the Church of Jesus Christ Twice March 13, 2019

Earlier this morning, Wednesday, March 13, 2019, a chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints burned down in Greymouth, New Zealand. The authorities are treating it as suspicious. It is the second chapel of the Church to burn down in New Zealand’s sparsely populated South Island this week, after a fire in a chapel in the city of Christchurch on Monday.

Church of Jesus Christ in Christchurch, New Zealand burnt
Joseph Johnson/Stuff

These follow the well-publicized burning of a Latter-day Saint chapel in St. George, Utah in January of this year. Authorities determined that the St. George fire was arson.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has a history of stoking negative feelings about the Church.

She has inaccurately implied that you cannot be both a faithful member of the Church and have “gay friends.” She has mistakenly said that the Church doesn’t “account” for LGBT+ individuals. And has said that tithing is a way church members are “taken advantage of.”

While Prime Minister Ardern has said that she believes people should be “free to have their personal beliefs,” I think it’s fair to wonder whether her irresponsible comments about the Church has stoked the hatred leading to this potential attack.

The closest church for Latter-day Saints in Greymouth is now ninety minutes away, significantly limited just how free to worship the Latter-day Saints there now are.

It may be worth considering whether anti-Mormon extremists based in the US like Hemant Mehta may also be stoking these attacks. Mehta a popular blogger here on Patheos, justified vandalism against Latter-day Saints this January, just weeks before the first arson.

While I would hope, and expect, that both Ardern and Mehta would condemn these acts of violence, the inaccurate rhetoric they use to attack the church should still be called out for the possible role it may play.

Ultimately, I hope that the two fires in New Zealand are a remarkable coincidence and that the rhetoric being used has not yet stoked people to the level of violence.

The saints of Greymouth and Christchurch have my prayers.

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  • Hi. If you’re going to lie about my beliefs, at least make them believable. I don’t condone arson (?!) or vandalism of any religious institution and have even raised money to help a church that was vandalized by apparent atheists. Religious people have a right to worship freely. I fully respect that.

    It’s telling that you won’t even provide a link for your readers to learn what I wrote since they would realize you’re lying to them. Stop doing that.

  • Michael Hoggan

    I hope the authorities catch the one responsible.

  • Christopher Cunningham

    I never lied about your beliefs. I wrote “I would hope, and expect, that Mehta would condemn these acts of violence.” I’m glad that you have. I hope your followers read that and internalize it.

    I did write that you rationalize vandalism, even if you don’t condone it, which you did January 1st of this year, only a few weeks before the first arson occurred. An individual spray painted anti-Mormon slurs on a public wall. I think your stance can be neatly summed up with this quote, “vandalism is wrong… still . . . ” You then spent the bulk of your article trying to explain why the slurs were accurate. I agree that it’s unbelievable that you rationalized the vandalism, but then again you did it, not me.

    Your ceaseless and inaccurate attacks against Latter-day Saints have consequences. With you, I hope arson has not yet been one of them. I hope you end your anti-Mormon extremism before it becomes one.

    I’m sure it is uncomfortable to be called out on your bigotry. But never accuse me of lying again unless you’ve been much more careful with your facts then you have today.

  • Moksha

    Elder Cunningham, accusing someone of inciting a crime is a pretty serious matter – especially when it includes a fellow blogger and a Prime Minister of another country.

    It would be preferrable if you could just join hands and sing I Believe.

  • Kiwi57

    Both of whom are public figures.

  • Kiwi57

    Greymouth and Christchurch are separated by a 3-hour drive through the mountains. There are other meetinghouses in the Christchurch area, much closer to Riccarton than Greymouth is. It seems unlikely (although, of course, not impossible) that the two crimes would have been committed by the same offender. Therefore, “copycat” behaviour seems to be more likely.

    Just today, we heard news of a shooting at a mosque in Christchurch. It’s pretty awful when someone burns down a Church building in the absence of any worshippers; but it’s a whole lot worse when people get shot during a worship service.

  • Christopher Cunningham

    I just read that. Truly tragic.

  • Christopher Cunningham

    You’re right, they are big accusations.

    But they’re the right ones.

    I’m also not accusing them of inciting the crimes. They didn’t call for the crimes, they don’t condone the crimes.

    But their irresponsible rhetoric creates an environment where those crimes are more likely, and they should be called out for it. After Mehta spent an hour saying he didn’t condone vandalism on Twitter, one of his followers wrote, “I don’t give a flying **** when a building of pedophile and abuse supporters burns down.”

    Mehta didn’t say that, but he should look at the way his ceaseless unfair and untrue attacks against Latter-day Saints lead to these kinds of attitudes.

    I hope the next time he’s considering rationalizing vandalism against Latter-day Saints he stops and thinks for a second because of what we wrote here, and chooses a path of greater tolerance.

  • Louis Midgley

    Please read those new reports about that terrible even very carefully.

  • fractal

    In the aftermath of the New Zealand massacre of Muslims, I think it is clear that the Prime Minister is NOT THE PROBLEM.
    Step away from Right Wing politics and Fundamentalist Christians, Mormons—they are NOT your friends!
    Their “purity tests” will be the death of us all, if we let it.

  • Christopher Cunningham

    I wrote this prior to the New Zealand attack.

    Clearly possible arson of empty church buildings pales in comparison with the attacks.

  • Kiwi57

    “It’s telling that you won’t even provide a link for your readers to learn what I wrote since they would realize you’re lying to them.”

    It’s even more telling that you chose not to provide such a link, since you scolded Chris for not doing so.

    Perhaps you’re not so confident about what you think it will show.

  • Kiwi57

    Incidentally, a friend of mine, a former policeman, is wondering whether it really is just a coincidence that those arson attacks happened only a couple of weeks before the shooting.