Whoever is responsible for the rash of black church arsons--whether conspirators or copycats--should be forewarned: what they intend as a blow to the heart of the African-American community may instead be a wakeup call to the church, both black and white.

Groups as different as the Christian Coalition and the National Council of Churches have come to the support of the black churches. That has to be some kind of progress. The Christian Coalition is offering a reward of up to $25,000 to anyone who can expose racially motivated links between the arsons. The National Council of Churches is pressuring the Clinton administration to step up the federal investigation.

Some, though not all, of these churches are covered by fire insurance. Even so, replacement costs often exceed the insured coverage. Here is a challenge for the congregations of this land: donate an amount equal to the casualty insurance premiums on your church building to be used by these black congregations in their rebuilding efforts. In my congregation, that comes to a modest $5.92 per member. A fund has been jointly established by the National Association of Evangelicals and the National Black Evangelical Association ("Partnership to Rebuild the Churches," World Relief, P.O. Box WRC, Wheaton, IL 60189).

Gifts toward rebuilding may be merely symbolic. Indeed, financial support may not be the greatest need in their time of anguish. It would be better for some folks from majority churches to relate directly to these congregations. For instance, Mennonite Disaster Service, typically known for cleanup and reconstruction efforts following natural disasters, is using volunteers to rebuild one of the burned-out churches in Alabama. For all of us, this ...

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