I wonder what solace the members of the Gainesville Church of God in Christ can take from Paul's words.

Especially now that it seems clear what all of us feared the most must be true, that someone set this house of the Lord on fire because those who worshiped within are black.Nothing has yet been proved in a courthouse, of course, but it looks as if this were no random torching, no pyromaniac out to get his kicks by drenching the Texas church with gasoline and striking a match.

No, the fuel of choice here was, by all accounts, nothing less than hate. Is any incendiary so powerful, so destructive? Does any leave behind so bad a stench? I can't imagine it.

Because, try as I might, I cannot imagine what kind of human being would burn a church simply because the worshipers are black. I know that such people exist. In Miami, they are the people who vandalize Jewish synagogues. They are the people who burn crosses and try to intimidate people who are not white all across this land.

And now we know that they live in a neighboring city, in our own county, perhaps across the street.

We all must have suspected this, but as long as it is just a suspicion there can be hope that we are mistaken, that some of the people we overhear in daily life are just talkers who will never act out their racism.


So what kind of weird, misfired thoughts goes through the brain of someone who is setting fire to a church? Do they believe, in an instant of insanity, that they are doing God's work? Or perhaps they believe that black people pray to some lesser God, one whom white people do not need to fear.

Or maybe - and this is what I really believe - they have lived so long with hate that they have lost the ability to think altogether.

A church-burning can almost lead me into the same trap. It is enough to make me emotional and forget my reasoning. I would love to be able to hate those who did this.

But then I return to Paul, who began his adult life as a vitriolic racist.

I'm no theologian, but I think the most important word in Paul's message is "us."

Those who burned down the Gainesville Church of God in Christ did something to us, not just that small congregation of 35 people. They destroyed our place of worship. The church is us. God is for us, not them.

Furthermore - and I know some people will disagree with me here - I believe that the us includes people of all races and backgrounds and not just of the Christian faith. I have to believe that God is for everyone who tries to do the right thing.

So if God is for us, who can be against us?

Those people are out there and, though they are not all that many, they are capable of considerable hate and destruction.

But there are far too many of us to be discouraged just as long as we remember who it is that we have on our side.