A GoFundMe campaign for three historically black churches in Louisiana is quickly approaching it’s goal thanks, in part, to a fire that caused the spire and roof of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris to collapse on Monday.
Last week, the son of a deputy sheriff was arrested and charged with three counts of arson after he was accused of setting three predominantly black churches on fire in southern Louisiana. On Monday, 21-year-old Holden Matthews was charged with hate crimes as well. He pleaded not guilty.
Hate crimes, under Louisiana law, include acts motivated by race, religion or ancestry.
The three churches were more than a century old. Gov. John Bel Edwards called the fires, which occurred on March 26, April 2 and April 4, “evil acts” last week.
A GoFundMe campaign, hosted by the Seventh District Baptist Association, was set up on April 10th, with all funds benefiting all three churches. According to the campaign, the 149 year old organization is “working with the Governor of Louisiana, local leaders, elected officials, the impacted churches and their pastors, other faith organizations and the community to ensure 100% of all funds raised will be evenly distributed to the three churches affected.”
The campaign was thrust into the limelight this week as donations for Notre Dame came pouring in. Immediately following the fire, over $700 million was raised for the cathedral overnight, despite the fact that the Catholic Church is one of the wealthiest organizations in the world, with a net worth of over $30 billion. Corporations like Apple and Disney, as well as educational institutions like the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, have pledged to donate as well.
“We join in prayer with the faithful of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris and all of France as they begin the work of rebuilding." – Fr. Jenkins
— Notre Dame (@NotreDame) April 16, 2019
If one thing is clear, the response to the Notre Dame fire drives home the fact that the money to solve many of the world’s problems is there, but those with it care more about a landmark and history than housing the homeless, feeding starving children, and ending the world’s wars.
While many Americans shared their personal photos of past trips to Notre Dame, memories of the building and their dismay at the destruction, others were quick to share their outrage at what they felt to be a mass expression of eurocentric supremacy that ignores the destruction of buildings and lands that are significant elsewhere in the world. Many took to social media to highlight the hypocrisy of showing an outpouring of collective grief for a building in Europe likely set ablaze by accident, while staying silent on very purposeful cultural tragedies like the destruction of indigenous lands, burial sites, and other spiritually significant places and artifacts, and the destruction of centuries old holy sites and places of worship throughout the Middle East, in addition to the loss of life included in much of that destruction.
In fact, on the very same day of the Notre Dame blaze in Frace, the al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem was also burning. The mosque, which happens to be even older than Notre Dame, is the third holiest site in Islam. While the origin of the fire is currently unknown, the mosque was previously set ablaze in 1969 by an Australian Christian and, unsurprisingly, it didn’t make international headlines back then and this week’s fire likely only appeared in the news thanks to what happened in France.
As more and more people sympathized with this comparison, memes, articles, and social media posts picked up steam and with them came suggestions on where to focus attention and donations, rather than on Notre Dame. Articles about and images of the al Aqsa Mosque appeared along with images of destroyed history sites in Syria, indigenous burial grounds in the United States, and the three historically black churches recently burned in Louisiana. Many of these posts came with a plea for Notre Dame mourners to open their eyes to the destruction caused by France and other colonial forces.
In the case of the three churches in Louisiana, the plea appears to have been successful. The crowdfunding campaign is now only a few hundred thousand dollars from its goal.
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