Local church leaders react to arrest in connection with church fires

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OUACHITA PARISH, La. (KNOE) - The local community is reacting to the arrest of a man that police say is responsible for intentionally setting three historically black churches on fire.

Holden Matthews, 21, is suspected and arrested behind these crimes.

A Monroe pastor shared his thoughts on what he calls a senseless act of hate.

"The white sheets are gone, but the spirits that motivated hate they did not die. They're not eradicated," said Bishop C.T. Hanchey.

Anger and sadness were the emotions Hanchey says filled him when he saw the pictures of the churches burned to the ground.

"That was not just a black church that burned to me. That was my church," said Hanchey.

As a white preacher of a mostly African American congregation at power church international, Hanchey says the deep scars of racial tension in the south continues to haunt society today.

"And I think that's one of the biggest problems. We see things through the prism of color, when it's not about color at all. It's a human race," said Hanchey.

Hanchey hasn't spoken to any of the pastors whose churches were destroyed, but he does plan to reach out to them soon.

In addressing an issue, he considers a hateful act, the bishop says others in his shoes must step up and remain vocal.

"Preachers have to stand up. The pulpit cannot just be a place for people to feel good about themselves. It's a frontline about social issues and this is one. This is headlines right now," said Hanchey.

We asked Hanchey how would he have reacted if that was his church that was burnt. This was his response.

"Afflictions does nothing but make Christians better Christians. I would say you know what, this is a fire but it didn't burn up what makes me a Christian," Hanchey says. "We have love and you can't burn that with fire."

Officials reiterated during a news conference Thursday morning that any possible hate crime motives will be investigated by federal officers.