A woman stands in front of the smoldering ruins of her East Texas church speaking to a reporter: “The building houses so many memories, my great-grandmother went here, my grandparents. I got married here, both of my daughters were baptized here.”
It’s January 2010 and 10 churches in East Texas have been set on fire, leaving entire towns grappling with loss and confusion. Little Hope Was Arson, a documentary currently playing in the Slamdance Film Festival, examines these events from the police investigation to the church members’ response to the arrest and imprisonment of the convicted arsonists. By the closing scene, not only the buildings but the church communities would be tested by fire.
Through news clips and interviews, the film portrays the initial anger, sorrow, and fear of the small-town residents as their sanctuaries burned. Pastors feared for their lives, and church members staked out in front of their churches with guns in tow. In the meantime, law enforcement combed through the ruins looking for clues. Finally a tip pointed them to two young men, one of whom was the brother of Christy McAllister, the law enforcement communications director. She helped turn him in.
The film then turns to look at the lives of Daniel McAllister, then 21, and Jason Bourque, then 19, who met in Sunday school. Daniel grew resentful toward God when his mother died and his father tried committing suicide. Jason also left the church after a breakup, falling into depression and drug use. The two men pled guilty to the fires and were sentenced to life in prison.
Yet the strongest point of the film was watching the church’s response in finding out the culprit was one of their own. At their sentence hearing, one pastor asked the boys to forgive them for any way the church had wronged them, as they forgive the boys. Many of the pastors said the boys were welcomed into the churches they have rebuilt.
It’s a wonder for a film–especially one shown in indie film festivals–to portray such a genuine image of forgiveness.