Burning cross found in front yard of Clarksville church - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Burning cross found in front yard of Clarksville church

CLARKSVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Someone burned a cross in the front yard of the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Clarksville, but the congregation isn't dwelling on what happened.

"I couldn't believe it, because all the years we've been here, we've never had this to happen. It was just devastating for me," said Pastor Vernon Hooks.

When Hooks takes the pulpit on Sunday, he'll deliver a message of forgiveness.

"There's one person who's kept me here that long, and that's the Lord," he said.

Since the 1870s, he says his New Hope Missionary Baptist Church has belonged to a close-knit, friendly community.

On Tuesday morning, they say they found a burning cross standing up on the gate in front of the church.

"You hear about it at other churches, other locations, but I didn't expect that in a million years here at New Hope," Hooks said.

With no leads, police are classifying this as a hate crime against the historically-black church.

"I know we've made a lot of progress, but when I see incidents like, this takes us back," Hooks said.

Despite the crime still laying feet away from their church doors, Hooks says this is a time for his congregation to follow their church covenant: Be slow to take offense but always ready for reconciliation.

"This is what God wants us to do. Forgiveness is what the Bible talks about. First of all, I would say, why did you do this? The second thing I would say is that God loves you and God can forgive you," Hooks said.

Copyright 2014 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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