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1999 NCC News Archives

NCC General Secretary Hails Arrests In Indiana Church Burnings
Council's "Church Rebuilding Project" Actively Assisting Indiana, Other Burned Churches

            NEW YORK, Feb. 25, 1999 ---- National Council of Churches General Secretary Joan B. Campbell today hailed the arrest of an Indiana man who has admitted to setting some 30 to 50 church fires in Indiana and other states over the past five years.

              Jay Scott Ballinger, 36, of Yorktown, Ind., has been charged in conjunction with seven of the fires, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday (Feb. 23).   Two other persons also are charged in one of the seven fires, that at Concord Church of Christ, Boone County.  Satanic symbols were left behind in spray paint at two of the seven burned churches.

              The NCC in 1996 called national attention to an epidemic of arson attacks on churches (at the time, mostly African American congregations across the U.S. South), and has led in rebuilding churches burned fro reasons of racial and/or religious hatred, promoting arson prevention measures and winning tougher penalties for persons convicted of burning houses of worship – including those recently enacted in Indiana and Tennessee.

              “These arrests mark the latest achievement of the National Church Arson Task Force, established in mid-1996 as a direct result of the National Council of Churches’ work,” the Rev. Dr. Campbell said.

              “The task force, a joint program of the U.S. Justice and Treasury departments, in working with state governments, especially where there are clusters of arsons, and has put the issue squarely in front of state fire marshals,” she said.  “The NCC also has been working with Indiana authorities to pay attention to the rash of fires in their state.”

              Cooperation among the U.S. Department of Justice, Indiana State Attorney General, Indiana State Fire Marshal and U.S. District Attorney for Indiana’s Southern District led to the arrests of Ballinger, Donald A. Puckett of Lebanon, Ind., and Angela Wood, Atlanta, Ga.

              Ballinger is charged with setting fires at Concord Church of Christ, Boone County; Liberty Baptist Church, Tipton County; Hawcreek Missionary Baptist Church, Bartholomew County; Grace Baptist Church, Hendricks County; Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, Rush County; Bethel Mission Baptist Church in Putnam County, and Christian Liberty Church, Boone County.

              The NCC’s Church Rebuilding Project is engaged actively with Indiana’s burned churches (not all of them attributed to Ballinger), including the Hawcreek Missionary Baptist Church, burned April 21, 1998.  The NCC awarded the church a rebuilding grant from its Burned Churches Fund, and put it in touch with a Tuscaloosa woman who donated stained glass windows to the church.

              The NCC has also awarded a rebuilding grant to Blountsville Church of the Nazarene, Losantville, Ind., burned July 26, 1998.  And the Council helped Ohio Chapel United Methodist Church, Ogilville, Ind., get volunteer rebuilding workers (through United Methodist Volunteers in Mission), local foundation funding and a municipal hookup for running water and sanitation.

              In November, NCC Church Rebuilding Project staff made site visits to seven burned churches in Indiana and six in Georgia, and talked with many more of them buy phone.  Six o the seven Indiana churches visited were damaged or destroyed by a firebomb, usually between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., and were located in isolated rural areas.

              From June 1996 through December 1998, the NCC’s Church Rebuilding Project ahs contacted more than 300 burned churches in 33 states, and, after a careful assessment of circumstances and needs, has awarded rebuilding grants directly to churches and their congregations.  Additional contributions were made in the form of volunteer labor and project management services and in-kind donations including lumber, construction modules, pews, altar furnishings, Bibles, hymnals and coir robes.

              Of the 149 funded congregations, 70 have been completely rebuilt to date, using a combination of funds form traditional commercial financing to an assortment of grants from foundations, church groups and the NCC.  Eight congregations bought new church homes with NCC grants, and 11 refinanced their church debt (eight of those using the HUD Loan Guarantee Program). 

            There are 39 now under construction, 18 in the planning phase, and 42 still being assessed.  Of the other churches, two declined assistance, and the remaining 76 either did not need the NCC’s assistance or were found not to qualify for an NCC grant. 

            “When arson destroys a church, it devastates the congregation and damages the surrounding community,” Dr. Campbell noted.  “Rebuilding can bring back the physical church, but rebuilding is more than physical repair.  Rebuilding includes crisis interventions when souls are shattered by fire, are isolated by the interruption of worship or stunned by the anger expressed by the arson.

              “Our short-term aim is to help the congregations continue their worship services and life as a congregation,” she said.  “Long term, the goal is to help them heal from the destruction of their building and to rebuild physically and spiritually.  And we continue work to address the hatred that underlies attacks on houses of worship.”


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