A 79-year-old retired minister in Texas killed himself via self-immolation in an effort to protest what he described as lingering racism in his childhood home — his final effort in a career marked by social activism, the Dallas Morning News reported.
“I would much prefer to go on living and enjoy my beloved wife and grandchildren and others,” Rev. Charles Moore wrote in a note left for authorities. “But I have come to believe that only my self-immolation will get the attention of anybody and perhaps inspire some to higher service.”
Authorities in Grand Saline, about 70 miles east of Dallas, said Moore drove there from his home in Allen on June 23 and pulled into a Dollar General parking lot before puring gasoline on himself and setting himself on fire. After a witness put out the flames with a fire extinguisher, Moore was hospitalized in Dallas, but died as a result of his injuries.
“I have never seen anything like this in my entire career in law enforcement, which includes my years as an arson investigator for the Mesquite Fire Department,” police chief Larry Compton told the Tyler Morning Telegraph, which posted a photo of Moore’s suicide note.
In the letter, which was apparently written on the day he killed himself, Moore said he felt a “shame” over what he described over a lack of acceptance toward African-Americans by local residents, saying the Ku Klux Klan still had sympathizers in the community.
“I will soon be eighty years old, and my heart is broken over this,” he wrote. “America (and Grand Saline prominently) have never really repented for the atrocities of slavery and its aftermath. What my hometown needs to do is open its heart and its doors to black people as a sign of the rejection of past sins.”
The Morning News reported that Moore had considered committing suicide at Southern Methodist University, where he earned degrees in English and divinity. Moore also pursued graduate studies at Harvard Divinity School and Boston University during his career, which took him from East Texas, where he was one of only two Methodist ministers who vocally opposed segregation during the Civil Rights era, to work in Africa, India and parts of the Middle East before he returned in the 1980s.
“When people are raised and spend their life in an atmosphere of segregation, it’s very threatening to make changes,” said retired Rev. Jack Albright, the only minister at the time supporting Moore. “The issue was how hard do you push, especially if you are going to create a lot of confrontation.”
Moore took over the ministry at the Grace United Methodist Church in Austin in 1990. His 10-year tenure there was marked by his support for LGBT rights. Moore also appointed gay members to leadership positions, and allowed the church to host meetings of a chapter of Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
In 1995, Moore went on a 15-day hunger strike to protest Methodist leaders’ treatment of the gay and lesbian communities, pressuring bishops visiting the area for a conference to admit in a public statement that their attitude contributed to the stigma surrounding gays and lesbians. However, the church did not change its policy considering homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
“If you ever were on the side of powerlessness, if you were ever on the margins yourself and were looking for someone to help you, Charles was the person,” a colleague, Rev. Sid Hall, told the Morning News.
The Huffington Post reported that Moore suggested in earlier writings that he had been considering his particular suicide method to protest not only the church’s support for the death penalty, but its refusal to amend its policy on homosexuality.
“I have struggled all my life (especially the last several years) with what it means to take Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s insistence that Christ calls a person to come and die seriously,” Moore wrote last month. “He was not advocating self-immolation, but others have found this to be the necessary deed, as I have myself for some time now: it has been a long Gethsemane, and excruciating to keep my plans from my wife and other members of our family.”
Arturo R. García is the managing editor at Racialicious.com. He is based in San Diego, California and has written for both print and broadcast media, including contributions to GlobalComment.com, The Root and Comment Is Free. Follow him on Twitter at @ABoyNamedArt
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