Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to come before you and this committee to report on the impact and success of the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996. 1 will address the issues from the perspective of the Congress of National Black Churches as a whole.
Since its inception in 1978, the Congress of National Black Churches (CNBC) has served a two fold purpose:
"to promote unity, charity and fellowship among the member denominations;"
"to provide the opportunity for the identification and implementation of program efforts that may be achieved more effectively through collective action than by a single denomination."
CNBC is governed by a Board consisting of four representatives from each of
eight denominations within the African American Community:
The African Methodist Episcopal Church;
The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church;
The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church;
The Church of God in Christ;
The National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.;
The National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.;
The National Missionary Baptist Convention of America;
The Progressive National Baptist Convention;
These denominations represent more than 65,000 churches and over twenty million people.
CNBC is blessed to have the leadership of:
AME Bishop John Hurst Adams as its founder and Chairman Emeritus;
Bishop Roy L. Winbush of the Church of God in Christ as the Chairman of the Board; and
Before launching its Church Rebuilding and Arson Prevention Program efforts in December of 1996, CNBC, in recent years has successfully assembled the talent and resources to:
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I have tried to establish the context and foundation on which my remaining testimony must be anchored. As I address your issues of concern regarding the success and impact of the 1996 Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996, I want you to be mm'dftil of the words of Bishop John Hurst Adams that best express the rebuilding mission.
"The Church is the most importantfoundation on Which to build a community. We must intentionally build a new climate of inclusion, quality and morality."
In December of 1996, CNBC received a matching grant of $6,000,000 from The Lilly Endowment to rebuild burned churches. Subsequently, the Church Rebuilding and Arson Prevention Program was launched on 23 Febniary 1997 during a press conference that announced the grant and the appointment of our Program Executive, Dr. Niathan Allen. The Church Rebuilding and Arson Prevention Program is a $12.8 million program that encompasses 16 program initiatives to achieve three goals:
Specifically, the program has pledged to:
The Church Rebuilding and Arson Prevention program staff, including myself is currently composed of 6 professionals and two secretaries, all of whom were hired within 45 days of the program's launch date. We know that we can't achieve the above by ourselves and, indeed, we have been blessed with willing partners from government and non-govenu-nent sources, particularly members of the National Church Arson Task Force.
With the help of staff members representing Housing and Urban Development, the National Council of Churches and the Community Relations Staff of the Department of Justice, we reviewed over 147 churches, made field assessments of over 60 churches, recommended 15 and selected 8 of these churches for grants of $75,000 each, or a total of $600,000. All of the above was accomplished in less than 15 days during the month of May. A feat that could not have been accomplished without a huge staff and travel budget. A feat that was made possible only through the on-the-ground presence of the Community Relations Staff, HUD and the inaugural experience of the national Council of Churches. HUD staff members were extremely helpful in the design of our assessment tools and will accompany all of our assessment teams in the ftiture.
Of the eight churches selected , five are negotiating and expect to receive HUD assistance that would total $448,000. The Congress of National Black Churches originally estimated that to rebuild all of the arson churches would require over $38,000,000. Our experience confirms that the rebuilding effort will continue to require determined commitment from a variety of ftinding sources. We, therefore, urge you to continue the HUD Loan Guarantee Recovery Fund.
The Community Relations Service of the Department of Justice has a history of quietly helping communities cope with hate and racial injustice. That history is filled with invaluable knowledge, experience and contacts that translate into cost savings 'in time, personnel and ftirther community disruption. For example, this nation can thank CRS for the continued existence, since the late 1960s, of the Association of Black Policemen who have volunteered to help CNBC establish security improvements in rebuilt arson churches and churches found to be at-risk. CNBC has recently entered into a formal agreement with the Community Relations Staff of the Department of Justice to continue to assist in the assessment of the remaining churches, to assist in organizing community support and preventive training around assaulted churches. We further urge you to appropriate continued funding for CRS's Church Arson Program effort in FY 1998.
We have held several meetings and planning sessions with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA has been very helpfiil in idi g initial publications focused on arson prevention and has produced a provi in video on the same subject, using some of the key ministers and churches involved in early arsons. We see FEMA as an integral part of our prevention program. FEMA's relationship with the International Association of Black Fire Fighters provides a formidable training partnership in our arson prevention efforts. Our first arson prevention training seminar will take place in the state of South Carolina in August of this year. We plan to initiate similar training seminars in each affected state during the next 12 months. We are currently drafting a partnership agreement with the International Association of Black Fire Fighters who have volunteered their resources in all of the thirteen southem states. Within the next 30 days we will be entering into a fonnal agreement with FEMA to: provide assistance in training around arson prevention; join in the production of publications and training materials; and assist in the production of a documentary film. We, therefore, urge you to appropriate funding for FEMA's Church Arson Prevention Program for FY 1998.
In the area of church security, we welcomed the volunteer efforts of Sandia Labs, a private nuclear security research and development organization in Los Alamos New Mexico. To their credit, selected staff members have suggested ways by which high-tech security systems might be applied in the improvement of church security. Sandia has pledged 80 person hours to conduct church security work shops. Heretofore, Sandia Lab's program efforts have been dedicated to securing government nuclear facilities. We urge you to encourage the continuation of Sandia's domestic security efforts, particularly those addressing the church security program.
Mr. Chairmman and members of the Committee, there are two additional federal entities that we believe could be more helpful with greater funding involvement, the Department of Education and the Telecommunications Information Infrastnicture Assistance Program of the United States Department of Conunerce.
When the congress established the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996, it found that "the incidence of arson or other destruction or vandalism pose a serious national problem, hinders interstate commerce, is often committed by individuals with ties to groups that operate nationwide, disrupts the tranquillity and safety of communities and is deeply divisive." In prosecution, law enforcement agencies have found that 40% of the arsons were committed by youngsters ranging in the age from 14 to 20 years. The Department of Justice has recently indicated difficulty 'in determining a finding of conspiracy. However, there has been no difficulty in determining the motivation of racial hate. Whether church arsons are bom of conspiracy or unwitting covert action or just plain fear and ignorance, if we allow them to continue without a comprehensive educational effort, it will destroy the very fabric of our country. We urge you to encourage the department of Education to join in the effort to prevent and eliminate church arson. If we are to eliminate church arson as a race hate response, we must embark on an educational process that essentially reengineers some of our basic educational courses from which we derive our basic citizen/social and economic values. We must teach children how to define the values of democracy and diversity in their own interest. We believe that children and adults whose churches are burned are at risk of the fear and the continued aftermath of rage that follows such incidents. We believe that children who participate in such burnings manifest the hate that derives from the fear and ignorance about race that prevails within their ad-Lilt community.
We urge you appropriate special funds to enable the Telecommunications Information Infrastructure Assistance Program of the United States Department of Commerce to join the effort to prevent and eliminate church arson before the dawn of the new century. When we began our program effort, we were ambivalent when choosing our methods of transferring infori-nation to our churches and supporting organizations. Most of our programs call for hard copy publications and information mechanisms. However, we are increasingly mindftil of the rapid migration to the electronic transfer of information between distant locations and various customers. We know that, for our training and resource assistance to remain valid beyond the next few years, we must assist churches in acquiring and coping with new information tectinology.
In closing I am compelled to respond to the unstated question; "Do we really
believe we can eliminate church arson before the dawn of the new century, in less
than three years?" If we don't believe that we can do this, then we will not make
the comprehensive effort required. We will not commit the resources required and
we will wind tip wasting the resources we have already expended. It is in
everyone's self-interest to eliminate church arson and eliminate the seeds of hate.
Home | Menu | Links | Info | Chairman's Page