Last month, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law a measure allowing the Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Jefferson County to form its own police force.
Two years ago, a similar measure in the Alabama Legislature failed to have enough backing to pass.
Critics said it violates the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. The clause prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” This clause not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another.
Briarwood Church officials say a police force is needed to protect its 4,100 members, 2,000 students and two campuses in Jefferson and Shelby counties, especially in light of recent armed attacks on schools and churches.
According to factsandtrends.net, there have been 220 school shootings since the year 2000, 59 of which involved at least one fatality. In that same time period, 18 fatalities were recorded at church shootings.
However, church violence in America is not a recent phenomenon. America has a long history of church violence.
A little-known wave of violence took place against the Pentecostal Holiness movement that followed the formation of the Church of God in 1907. That year a group of churches in the mountain region along the Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina borders organized to form a new association of churches that rejected the restraints of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The evangelical charismatic movement spread from the mountains to neighboring states in the 1920s and gave birth to the Church of God and the Church of God of Prophecy churches. But not everyone was accepting of this new religious movement. In some places, it was violently opposed.
The charismatics were dubbed “holy-rollers” by those opposed to the movement. And after name-calling begins, violence soon follows.
Some of this violence against the “holy-rollers” took place in Marion County and is chronicled in a book called “A Crown Awaits” by Luther A. Moxley of Itawamba County, Miss. Church of God followers were chastised, beaten and murdered. In the book, Moxley described how a church near Hodges was “burned to the ground by the enemies of holiness.” A church was built on the same site and it, too, was burned. Later, during a church meeting near the same site, “two friends of the church were trying to protect the services from interruption and harm. They were murdered in cold blood,” Moxley wrote.
He also described a near-violent incident that took place at Antioch Primitive Baptist Church, which my grandmother, Cora Lolley Palmer (1917-2011), witnessed. Church of God evangelist L.A. Moxley got permission to hold a revival at the church, five miles north of Hamilton, to possibly save some souls.
Moxley said that at the revival “several people were saved, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost.” But a violent mob formed and attempted to break up the service. And if not for the actions of my great-grandfather, Mann Lolley, the scene could have turned bloody.
“These blessings stirred up a hornet’s nest of opposition and an angry mob hurriedly organized a ‘whip the preacher party,’ ” Moxley wrote. My grandmother, a young girl then, was in attendance with her mother, Molly Lolley, and father, Mann Lolley. My grandmother had walked outside trying to quiet the cries of her baby nephew. She witnessed the violent mob gathering.
“I saw one man lay out a handkerchief on a flat bed truck and roll a pistol up in it. They talked like they were gonna bring out the preacher,” she told me in 2007.
The mob entered the church “armed with guns, clubs and rocks,” Moxley wrote. “Suddenly, from out of night and through the doorway stepped one lone, strong man. He raced ahead of the advancing thugs, stopped at the altar and turned to face them, speaking not a word. This was a big man, muscular and robust. His name was Mann Lolley.”
Moxley said a silent face-to-face confrontation lasted for “several poignant moments,” then the mob began to file away.
My grandmother said at this point, her father led the congregation in “Amazing Grace.”