Rumors of targeted attacks at “liberal” churches ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration Wednesday prompted messages of caution from faith leaders in North Carolina.
Bishops in the Lutheran, Episcopal and Methodist churches of North Carolina said they weren’t aware of any direct threats or warnings from law enforcement after the United Church of Christ posted about possible attacks targeting churches in a tweet Friday.
“There are reports that ‘liberal’ churches will become targets of possible attacks in the coming week, with the dates of Jan. 17 and Jan. 20 featured more prominently,” UCC said. “We strongly encourage you to be attendant to all safety concerns for ministers and congregants, even if it means meeting in a way that is other than in person at a church building this week.”
Bishop Tim Smith of the North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America shared UCC’s warning on Facebook Saturday.
Smith was careful to note “our tendency to overreact in volatile situations” and confirmed he had not received a warning call from the FBI, but said he knew of at least one ELCA bishop who had been contacted.
“I would simply say, personally, that my best advice at the height of a pandemic and amid such potentially violent threats and posturing that our NC Synod congregations take a break altogether from meeting in person for the rest of January,” Smith wrote. “Again, not a Synod Council recommendation or policy, just my best advice in the convergence of two frightening and real threats.”
His warning prompted Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on Creedmoor Road in Raleigh — which typically live streams its services from the sanctuary — to ask its staff to work remotely on Sunday, WRAL reported.
Bishop Morgan Ward of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church told The News & Observer in a text Sunday she hadn’t heard of any threats from law enforcement or otherwise.
In a statement posted on the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina’s website Saturday, the Rt. Rev. Sam Rodman and the Rt. Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple said they’d been contacted by several church leaders who saw the warning messages from other denominations regarding “’chatter’ on extremist channels.”
Rodman and Hodges-Copple said neither they nor law enforcement in Raleigh have been notified about any threats.
“We share this not to induce alarm, but rather to keep our faithful informed of a concern brought to our attention,” they said. “We have already requested that due to the COVID pandemic, every church in the Diocese of North Carolina return to online worship for at least the next six weeks starting Monday, January 18.”
The bishops say they would also support any church that opts to suspend in-person services Sunday “in an abundance of caution.”
In issuing the warning Friday, UCC said it was “hesitant to raise the alarm and/or overreact” but felt the need to say something in light of recent violence. UCC — a denomination of roughly 5,000 protestant churches nationwide — has traditionally supported abortion rights, same-sex marriage and the LGBT community, Newsweek reported, citing Got Questions Ministries.
The Southern Conference of the United Church of Christ, which is based in Burlington, shared its warning on the homepage of its website.
A representative from the Southern Conference did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment Sunday. The conference is comprised of at least 200 member churches — about half of which are predominantly Black — and more than 30,000 members in North Carolina and Virginia, according to its website.
News & Observer reporter Martha Quillin contributed this report.
This article is published through the N.C. News Collaborative, a partnership of Lee Newspapers, Gannett and McClatchy newspapers in North Carolina that aims to better inform readers throughout the state.