The Mt. Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina caught fire Tuesday night, making it the seventh predominantly black church to burn since nine people were killed from a shooting at Emanuel AME Church roughly two weeks ago. Authorities are investigating the fire, but believe the blaze was not caused by arson.
According to a preliminary assessment, officials believe the church was hit with lightning as severe storms passed through the region. The investigation will continue as forensic experts examine the evidence.
ABC News reports the Mt. Zion AME Church was the target of a KKK arson in 1995.
In recent days, six other predominantly black churches across the South have caught fire. Three of the six were ruled arson, but have not been labelled hate crimes.
At the same time, two female AME pastors in South Carolina have received letters threatening their safety.
The letters, signed by Apostle Prophet Harry Leon, use scripture to argue that women should not lead churches. The writer threatens that Pastors Mary Rhodes and Valarie Bartley will die along with their children if they do not repent.
The Clarendon County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the matter and searching for the writer of the threatening letters.
While the women are concerned for their safety, they say that they will continue to preach.
“Nothing is going to stop me from doing what God has called me to do,” Pastor Rhodes said.
Publication date: July 1, 2015