Sanctuary burns days after church brawl

| October 7, 2009

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) — Investigators say disgruntled church members could be the cause of a fire that destroyed a historic rural Claiborne County church burned to the ground Friday night.

A history of threats, and even a fight last week have detectives investigating if something sinister set the Edwards Community Missionary Baptist Church on fire.

A pile of ashes shows more than earthly fire, according to Pastor Clayborn Gibbons.

"That’s not god. That’s the devil’s work," Gibbons said as he looked at the burned sanctuary, "It hurts."

Even more, Gibbons says, because he also fears an angry church member or members may have reduced the historic, rural church to rubble.

"I’ve been in 9 churches and never seen arguments like in this one," Gibbons said.

Gibbons says trouble has been building since the church’s elections last month.

He says several church members had become disruptive— even making threats against other members.

"One of them said, if you touch me again, he said, I will shoot you," Gibbons said.

Gibbons says the congregation met Wednesday night to exclude "the troublemakers."

A fight severe enough to call the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Office erupted. Gibbons says he even turned in his key.

"I was afraid someone would get hurt," Gibbons said.

Just two nights later, the fire erupted.

"At this point we’ve not found any evidence that it was an electrical type origin," Claiborne County Sheriff’s Captain David Honeycutt said.

Investigators also haven’t found any evidence of arson, according to Honeycutt. Still, even he’s suspicious.

"With the events that occurred, I would be neglectful in my duty if I didn’t look at this seriously being an arson," Honeycutt said.

"I was the song leader That’s what breaks my heart," church member Kathy Dyre said.

Dyre also blames fellow-members for charring church.

"Cause they couldn’t get their way about nothing," Dyre said.

Gibbons hopes for justice here and in the here-after.

"I hope the law gets them and the Lord gets them. If we don’t get them on this side, he’ll get them and cast them into the lake of fire," Gibbons said.

Honeycutt says he won’t call anyone a suspect, just yet.

He says the Tennessee Fire Marhal’s Office is aiding the investigation.

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Category: Church Security

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