The Monday fire that devastated France’s iconic Notre Dame Cathedral drew expressions of sorrow and sympathy from around the world, including from U.S. lawmakers. The edifice has stood, in some capacity, for eight centuries and is one of the most-visited houses of worship in the world.
President Trump tweeted about the fire twice:
Vice President Pence also shared his thoughts and prayers. He tweeted that "it is heartbreaking to see a house of God in flames.”
But neither man had responded to the recent fires that destroyed three predominantly African American churches in Louisiana.
After the publication of this piece, Alyssa Farah, a spokeswoman for Pence, reached out to the Fix with a statement from the vice president.
“When tragedy strikes in places of worship, people of all faiths unite. Our hearts go out to the members of the congregations of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, St. Mary’s Baptist Church, and Greater Union Baptist Church who were victims of arson. No one should be in fear in a house of worship. Justice must be carried out on the perpetrator,” the statement said.
On Tuesday, state authorities charged Holden Matthews, a 21-year-old white man and the son of the local police deputy, with hate crimes in the Louisiana church attacks. He was earlier charged with arson.
Of course, the churches in Louisiana are significantly younger than Notre Dame. But they also have a rich history and played a significant role in St. Landry Parish’s black community. At least one hosts a cemetery containing graves of black people enslaved in Louisiana.
“My church has a lot of history,” the Rev. Gerald Toussaint of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, which is more than 140 years old, told the Daily Advertiser. “I don’t understand it. What could make a person do that to a church?”
Greater Union Baptist Church is also more than 100 years old, according to Pastor Harry Richard, whose grandfather was one of the congregation’s founders.
“He left a legacy for me, and I was trying to fulfill that to the best of my ability,” he told CBS News.
St. Mary Baptist Church also was targeted by the arsonist.
The burning of black churches was a common intimidation tactic during the Jim Crow era. “For decades, African-American churches have served as the epicenter of survival and a symbol of hope for many in the African-American community,” Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, said last week in a statement condemning the fires. “As a consequence, these houses of faith have historically been the targets of violence.”
The church fires have, of course, drawn wide coverage and attention. The Louisiana governor mentioned it in his recent state of the state. But top Trump administration officials have not spoken out on or condemned the violence.
Fundraising has also been slow.
In the wake of the Notre Dame fire, veteran journalist Soledad O’Brien tweeted about this. “So far no zillionaires have stepped forward to offer to bail them out,” she wrote, a reference to French billionaires pledging hundreds of millions of euros toward Notre Dame’s restoration.
On Tuesday, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton made an appeal on behalf of the Louisiana churches.
So far, a GoFundMe account has raised $180,000 to support the restoration of the churches.
Some argue the responses to the Louisiana churches and Notre Dame are not comparable because of the French cathedral’s outsize historic and architectural significance.
“It’s a tragedy when black churches + mosques are bombed, burned or vandalized, but of course the world pays more attention to an 800-year-old architectural masterpiece in the heart of a city everyone visits! That’s not white supremacy, and nonwhites who love Paris aren’t dupes.” journalist Thomas Chatteron Williams wrote on Twitter. “How are we going to build the multiethnic/multicultural/pluralistic societies we need on the basis of such petty divisiveness? We really all need to do better.”
But the overwhelming response to the Notre Dame fire, compared with the muted response to the attacks on the black congregations, suggests the destruction of some houses of worship is more heartbreaking than others.