GRAND SALINE – A 79-year-old Methodist minister who died after setting himself on fire on a busy street in this town of about 3,100 residents left behind a suicide letter asking the community to repent for its racism. (See the letter in the related link with this story.)
Charles Robert Moore, who had addresses in Allen and Sunnyvale, drove to Grand Saline on June 23, parked his vehicle in a Dollar General lot in the 500 block of East Garland Street, doused himself in gasoline and committed self-immolation, Police Chief Larry Compton said Tuesday.
“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," the 66-year-old chief said.
Horrified witnesses ran to the man and tried to put out the fire. Another witness then arrived with a fire extinguisher.
His stepson-in-law, the Rev. Bill Renfro, provided the Tyler Morning Telegraph with a letter he hopes might provide some perspective:
In the middle of the night, Monday, June 23rd, my wife, Kathy, and I had to drive to Allen (just north of Dallas) to be with her mother. Kathy's stepfather, Charles Moore, a retired United Methodist minister, chose Monday to self-immolate in the Grand Saline town square, the town in which he grew up. Monday was the 50th anniversary of the discovery in Mississippi of the burned automobile that belonged to three young civil rights workers who had been missing since June 21st and found later to have been murdered by members of the KKK. The three students had gone to Mississippi to help blacks register to vote. Charles sacrificed his life in this manner as a statement that he was dying on behalf of others to call attention to the plight of the powerless people struggling to live who are being denied justice, equality, constitutional rights, health and quality education. He gave his life on behalf of the hungry, the poor, the imprisoned, and the jobless as well.
Charles wrote that he was concerned that the programs that were developed for those who don't have enough for food and adequate nutrition are being cut; that health care for millions is being denied with no reason except spite toward the President; that racism is rampant; that the performance of a same-sex union by a minister of the United Methodist Church is considered to be on a par with crimes such as rape, pedophilia, extortion, etc.; that LGBTQ persons still suffer discriminatory practices; that the death penalty is still used as a supreme punishment without deterrent effect; that cuts are being made in quality public education for all children; that voting rights are being taken away by discriminatory laws; that justice is unbalanced for the minorities and the poor; that tax cuts are proposed for the wealthy; that leaders and lawmakers enjoy social injustice. Charles Moore considered his act to be a supreme sacrifice for the sake of others, for all, including the powerful and the powerless. He believed that the memory of his act would allow healing to evolve.
As written in the notes that were left behind, Charles Moore determined that he had not done enough in his life to alleviate these problems. He had not gone to Mississippi to register black voters fifty years ago; he had not participated in the Selma march; he had not fought enough for justice nor had he acted enough to erase the specter of segregation because he feared for his life or for the possibility of removal from a church or from the ministry. (His inaction is debatable since, as a young minister, he was kicked out of churches in East Texas for standing up for integration and since he went on a hunger strike to bring attention to the polity of the United Methodist Church that would not allow gays or lesbians to hold any office within the Annual Conference or in Local Churches. These rules were relaxed some later. These are only a few of his many acts for justice during his life.) He decided that his final act would be the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of others in an attempt to fulfill in death where he had failed in life.
Time will tell what effects and affects his death will have on society.
Rev. Bill Renfro