Statement by the Right Rev. Jennifer A. Reddall, Bishop of Arizona, on the Indictment of Eric Ridenour for Arson
The United States Attorney in Arizona sent out a press release today regarding the alleged perpetrator of the arson at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and First Presbyterian Church in Douglas, Arizona, detailing additional hate crime charges against the defendant. The press release said, in part:
“A federal grand jury in Tucson returned a six-count superseding indictment yesterday against Eric Ridenour, 58, of Douglas, for Arson of Property Used in Interstate Commerce, Obstruction of Free Exercise of Religious Beliefs by Fire, and Using Fire to Commit Federal Felony….. According to the superseding indictment, further investigation and evidence elicited in court testimony allege that Ridenour intentionally started the fires in both churches because of his hostility toward their progressive doctrines, particularly their practice of having women and members of the LGBTQ community serve as church leaders.”
The Episcopal Church does not amend its practices on the basis of violence toward us; and we will continue to follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the one who called marginalized people into loving relationships with God and their neighbor, and mirror that invitation, welcome, and inclusion to all people.
Nonetheless, this indictment, though not unexpected, brings with it grief at a world in which individuals resort to violence in a vain attempt to make the world conform to their own biases.
This hateful act comes during a year of positive anniversaries of our movement as a church to fully welcome all people into lay and ordained ministry. This year is the 50th anniversary of the ordination of the first eleven women priests in the Episcopal Church, and it is the 20th anniversary of the ordination of the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson.
Members of Episcopal Churches, in Arizona and elsewhere, hold a broad range of understanding regarding the inclusion of all people in our leadership; but our church laws and policies are absolutely clear that we do not discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexuality. Living into the reality of our nondiscrimination policies is still a work in progress. But it is work we are committed to engage.
This indictment serves as a reminder of the perils and vulnerability of simply existing as a woman or a member of the LGBTQ+ community. It is part of our Gospel work to ensure that we live in a world in which no person fears to worship, work, build a family, or travel on the basis of their gender identity or sexuality.
Finally, I call upon our Arizona civic and religious leaders of all political parties and all faiths to join the Episcopal Church in asserting that all people, regardless of their gender identity or sexuality, have the right to exercise their religious beliefs in safety; and I commend those leaders use their platforms to examine rhetoric and legislation that makes it socially acceptable to target women and LGBTQ+ people for their identity.