"Will they stop at burning an empty church?" It was a sobering question, but Ellen Fantani, who's been tracking the spike in anti-Christian attacks across Europe, can't help but wonder. "How much worse will it get?" she said, repeating the reporter's question. "Certainly, the climate today," on her continent and ours, "does not leave me optimistic."
Monday night, after two straight weekends of violence, two more pastors got the calls church leaders are dreading. West of El Paso, in Texas, Abundant Living Faith Center was dangerous to even walk near. Twenty-seven windows had been shattered, along with six doors, making the sidewalks around the church a minefield of broken glass and splintered wood. The pastor, Jared Neiman, couldn't believe the devastation but insisted: "To whoever did this, we will not stop telling people about Jesus! Not now, not ever. Also, we love you & so does God!"
Thousands of miles away in Delaware, Reach Church didn't fare nearly as well. Teams of firefighters did what they could, but by dark on Monday, barely the structure remained in what police believe is another arson attack. "There were several pews in the sanctuary, various pews, random ones that were set on fire. Window sills were set on fire, there was equipment that was turned over." It was just, the exhausted pastor said, a lot to deal with.
Reach Church, which locals say is one of the largest in town, was just getting ready to reopen after the pandemic. "We have a school that we own... so we have some options there," Pastor Chuck Betters said, trying to look on the bright side. "We have some options here for outdoor worship." Staring up through the holes firefighters had to cut in the steeple, he said they were trying to see this whole disaster through Jesus's eyes. "We're moving forward with boldness, we're moving forward with forgiveness, because the person who did this -- I can only imagine the pain that person has in their life," he told a reporter quietly.
These pastors may be forgiving, but the law, Trump administration officials warned, will not be. In an interview yesterday, a senior White House official vowed that "criminals" who've desecrated U.S. churches, property, and statues, will be prosecuted "to the fullest extent of the law." Calling it "absolutely appalling," the administration source said that the president stood in "solidarity" with the faith community. "Rest assured, President Trump will always demand law and order in American communities and ensure the criminals causing these sacrilegious acts will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
When the administration does act, and Cabinet officials from the Justice Department to Homeland Security won't hesitate to, they'll have plenty of tools at their disposal. Not only did President Trump's June executive order protecting the monuments reference the Church Arson Prevention Act of the U.S. code, it also made it quite clear that anyone who "intentionally defaces, damages, or destroys any religious real property, because of the religious character of that property, or attempts to do so" will face serious penalties -- 20 years in jail, with the possibility of 40 if people are injured or weapons are used.
But interestingly enough, that's just one of the avenues for bringing these thugs to justice. The president's team could also use the FACE Act -- which, ironically was passed to protect abortion clinic access but also happens to include a provision safeguarding churches. In subsection (a)(3), it calls for prescribes penalties for someone who "... intentionally damages or destroys the property of a place of religious worship." There was talk, back in the heat of the same-sex marriage debate when Sunday services were being disrupted by LGBT activists, of dusting it off and invoking it. The government never did. Now that we have an administration that puts the proper priority on religious freedom, it might be a good time to use it.
Either way, President Trump has been clear: When angry mobs come for what's sacred, they make the mistake of thinking the "American people are weak and soft and submissive. But the American people are strong and proud, and thy will not allow our country, and all of its values, history, and culture to be taken from them. We will expose this dangerous movement," he declared at Mount Rushmore, and "end this radical assault." And if they don't believe he's serious, then they haven't been paying attention.