MESA, Ariz. – Police officers in Arizona are searching for an arsonist who has burned several Bibles on church properties recently, even inscribing ‘hail Satan’ on one of the church’s gates.
According to The Arizona Republic, an unidentified arsonist in Mesa has torched Bibles on six different occasions since mid-May. The arsonist, who remains at large, is believed to be a White or Hispanic male in his late teens or early 20s.
Three of the fires occurred at Mesa Baptist Church, on May 11, 17, and 18. Then, in mid-June, the arsonist burned Christian materials at East Mesa Christian Church, Pilgrim Lutheran Church, and Calvary Baptist Church.
In each case, church employees found the charred remains of a Bible or a burned pile of papers on church property. Officials described the incidents as “bias crimes.”
“It is being looked at as a bias crime because of the place and the manner where it is taking place,” Mesa police spokesperson Diana Williams told reporters. “It’s a message of some sort, but it’s hard to tell what it is.”
The first burned Bible was discovered on Mother’s Day by churchgoers at Mesa Baptist Church.
“Mother’s Day morning … we were opening up our double doors and as we came out we walked right up on a burned bible,” Pastor Mark Rice told local Fox affiliate KSAZ.
At first, Rice thought the Bible-burning was just a bizarre prank. But then it happened again just one week later.
“When it happened a week later, we realized that it was intentional,” Rice said.
Rice quickly concluded that the arsonist had sinister motives.
“No one was trying to set the church on fire or they would have burned it closer the building,” he told Reuters. “They had something else in mind.”
The pastor’s theory was confirmed when the remains of a third fire were discovered the next day on the church’s property, along with a cryptic “hail Satan” message carved into a nearby metal gate. According to reports, the message was inscribed with 3-inch high letters, evidently etched with a knife or a nail.
When the “hail Satan” message was discovered, Rice said he knew the arsonist was burning the Bibles to promote an anti-Christian message.
“They were sending a message—we reject Christ by burning the Bible and we lift up Satan,” he told KTVK-TV.
Rice further suggested that the charred Bibles represent the age-old battle between good and evil.
“That’s been the story of Christianity,” he said. “I don’t take it as a personal attack, a personal affront as much as I recognize the battle of good and evil. And I’m on the good side—the God side—and we’re hoping that we can really help these people.”
“I’m just hoping it doesn’t turn any more aggressive or violent than what it has been,” Rice added.
Online commenters agreed with Rice’s assessment, saying the Bible-burning was an evil act designed to suppress God’s truth.
“Destruction of private property, possible arson, vandalism… these are the fruits of the natural spirit,” one commenter noted. “Suppressing the truth in unrighteousness won’t avail them anything. We and these churches should pray for these people, that they’d repent.”