Community rallies
to help church

A church in Makiki was
intentionally set on fire
on Wednesday

Thousands of messages of encouragement and support have poured in to the pastor and congregation of a small Makiki church that was damaged early Wednesday in an intentionally set fire.

"There has been a tremendous response from the religious community and the wider community," said the Rev. Vaughn Beckman, pastor of First Christian Church at 1516 Kewalo St.

Offers of relocation space also came in, but the service tomorrow will be held in the second-floor sanctuary despite the smoky odor lingering from the charred first floor.

"People are saying it's important to reclaim our space," he said yesterday.

The reaction was intensified because civil rights groups decried the arson as a "hate crime" because the church is "open and affirming" toward homosexuals and Beckman is an activist in causes including gay rights. Recently, Beckman joined in an ACLU lawsuit against the city for its exclusion of gay organizations from the July 5 Family Day Parade.

"At this point there seems to be no evidence pointing to the incident as being a hate crime," U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo said yesterday after meeting with FBI agents and other federal officers who joined Honolulu police detectives in investigating the arson. "The investigation is still looking at all aspects. I will reserve final judgment until after I have been fully briefed."

A hate crime is a federal offense involving violent acts motivated by bias.

"I don't want to think it's a hate crime," Beckman said yesterday.

No one has claimed credit for the deed, which would be typical of a hate crime, but "it seemed to be planned and well orchestrated. It was hideous and horrible ... and I feel kind of sorry for them," Beckman said.

Support messages have come from Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish and Christian individuals and groups, he said.

"What has been gratifying is that a lot of people support not only the congregation and me, but the message we bring about equality for all people."

The congregation voted about 12 years ago to be welcoming to homosexuals. It is affiliated with the Disciples of Christ denomination, which has a history of involvement in social causes.

The church's insurance company put the damage at $150,000, Beckman said. The damage covered Bibles, Sunday school supplies, computers, a piano, the kitchen and furniture.

Some well-wishers have put their support into action. The Punahou School chaplains committed to bringing coffee and refreshments tomorrow. Nearby St. Clement's Episcopal Church will provide chairs for an anticipated overflow crowd.


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