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.
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.