Arsonist ''Promises Violence'' Against Presbyterian Church over Divestment Policy

The PC(USA) received a letter ‘replete with a swastika’ that threatened to burn down Presbyterian churches, unless the denomination changes its divestment policy by Nov. 15

The heated debate on the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s decision to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza may turn into fire – literally. On Friday, Nov. 12, the PCUSA reported that an anonymous writer sent a letter form Queens, NY, threatening to burn down Presbyterian churches in retaliation for “your anti-Israel and anti-Jewish attitudes.”

The handwritten letter – which according to the Presbyterian News Service has an illustration of a swastika – set a Nov. 15 deadline for the denomination to reverse its Middle East policies “or else.”

“I promise violence against Presbyterian Churches — They will go up in flames, bet your ass that’s a terrorist threat,” the letter stated.

Officials at the Presbyterian Church headquarter in Louisville, where the letter was sent, notified federal authorities of the threat both in Kentucky and in New York.

“We have also tightened security here at the Presbyterian Center,” said Mission Support Services Director Joey Bailey to the PNS.

Meanwhile, the PCUSA head Clifton Kirkpatrick immediately informed PC(USA) officials in New York of the threat and offered several safety precautions for churches in the area.

Suggestions stretched from illuminating building exteriors, entrances, and parking lots, to installing burglar and fire alarm systems that transmit a message.

Kirkpatrick’s letter was also sent to all denominational offices in the nation in preparation for the upcoming Sunday service when congregants would be most vulnerable.

“Though the threat appeared to have come from New York, we can’t be sure, so we’ve contacted them (governing bodies) all,” said Gradye Parsons, director of operations for the Office of the General Assembly. “Their (sic) will be Arson attacks against Presbyterian Churches with people inside there will be bloodshed.”

Meanwhile, Kirkpatrick offered some words of assurance for the 2.5- million member denomination, saying, “The overwhelming majority of these kinds of threats never come to fruition.”

“At the same time,” Kirkpatrick added, “it is helpful to be aware and prepared.”

Also, in response to the terrorist’s claim that “it will be a pleasure setting fire to Presbyterian Churches,” Kirkpatrick wrote: “It is, sadly and all too often, a violent culture in which we work and witness for the sake of the gospel. However, in this and in every circumstance, I am deeply grateful for your ongoing, faithful ministry in your locations and for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s witness for peace, not only in the Middle East, but also around the world,” Kirkpatrick added on his message to the churches.

The arson threat is the most recent in a slew of belligerent phone-calls, emails and letters received by the PCUSA in the months following the denomination’s decision to divest. Last week, the PCUSA officials completed a list of “six-criteria” to determine which companies the church should divest from. Four of the six criteria target the Israeli occupation directly while the fifth identifies multinational corporations that promote or enable violence by either Palestinians or Israelis. The sixth criterion addresses the continued construction of the separation barrier between the two nations.

The PC(USA) plans to complete the list of companies by next May; the church then plans to discuss possible solutions with the targeted companies to halt their engagement with the Israeli occupation. Divestment will come at earliest in 2006 as a last resort.

The following is are the list of safety precaution recommendations released by the Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick:

Arson Prevention Suggestions for Churches
• Illuminate building exterior, entrances, and parking lots.
• Use motion-activated lighting near doors and windows.
• Install burglar and fire alarm systems that transmit a message.
• Develop an evacuation plan in case of fire.
• Trim or remove shrubbery and signs that obstruct the view of the building from the street.
• Clean house by removing trash, unneeded materials, and other materials that could contribute to fire spread.
• Use properly installed deadbolt locks on all exterior doors.
• Keep windows locked (preferably with spring-loaded bolts), barred (releasable from the inside) or protected with wire screens.
• Many churches have basement entries that are hidden from view. These should be secured with locking ground-level doors when the building is not in use.
• Secure ladders, external stairways, and fire escapes that allow access to the roof.
• Keep track of who has keys. Change locks when keys are lost.
• Consider fencing the areas or sides that are not readily visible to patrols or neighbors. Appoint a person from the church to be a liaison with law and fire officials and request a fire prevention and security evaluation.
• Be wary of strangers, register guests, check on suspicious individuals, and make employees aware of the need to keep a record of suspicious activity. Check credentials of service personnel; individuals may pose as service technicians to get into the church.
• Ask ushers and other volunteers to be alert to any unusual behavior before, during, and after official church functions.
• Increase watch presence during holidays and special events.
• Be aware of individuals that may be disgruntled or likely to cause damage to church property through arson or vandalism.
• Be aware that vandalism may precede arson.
• Arsonists may carry a liquid accelerate in an inconspicuous container, such as a beverage container.
• Encourage neighbors to make note of strangers spending time in the neighborhood, either on foot or in vehicles. Write down the license plate numbers of suspicious vehicles and inform the proper authorities.
• Do not advertise on church signs or bulletins when church will not be in use.
• If there is a private security firm in your area, consider a contract with them because they will check the building at unscheduled intervals.
• Involve your insurance agent; they often have good arson/fire prevention ideas

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