Tennessee Police Nab Suspect in Church Fires

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Police on Saturday arrested a suspect believed to have set fires that burned two black churches in Tennessee, but investigators said they had no reason to believe the blazes were a hate crime.

Sparta police expected to charge the man with arson on Monday. He was being held without bail Saturday on unrelated charges. Authorities were not releasing his name.

''At this point, we have no evidence to support in any way that it was a hate crime,'' detective Allen Selby said. ''The only way I could characterize this was criminal activity.''

Five vacant houses were burned Friday along with the two churches, all in the same neighborhood.

Sparta, a town of 5,000 people about 75 miles southeast of Nashville, was on edge following the blazes. About 5 percent of the town's residents are black, according to census figures.

Meanwhile in Virginia, a small fire and anti-gay graffiti were found Saturday at a church belonging to the United Church of Christ, a denomination that endorsed same-sex marriage last week.

The exterior of St. John's Reformed United Church of Christ in Middlebrook also included a message that United Church of Christ members were sinners.

A Virginia State Police fire investigator was on the scene Saturday, but declined to comment.

The United Church of Christ's rule-making body endorsed a resolution July 4 endorsing same-sex marriage. UCC churches are autonomous, meaning the General Synod does not create policy for its more than 5,700 congregations.

Someone also tried to set fire to a mosque early Saturday in Bloomington, Ind., and the FBI was investigating it as a hate crime.

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