Charles R. Moore (minister)

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Charles Robert Moore
Personal details
Born (1934-07-18)July 18, 1934
Grand Saline, Texas, U.S.
Died June 23, 2014(2014-06-23) (Age 79)
Grand Saline, Texas, U.S.
Nationality American

Charles Robert "Charlie" Moore was an American Methodist minister, social justice activist and racial activist who drew attention to himself when he committed suicide through immolation in the East Texas town of Grand Saline, Texas. He also drew attention to how the United Methodist Church treated gays and lesbians by going on a hunger strike years earlier. He had aligned himself with several progressive and liberal and left leaning causes throughout his life, leaving behind a typed letter urging the community of Grand Saline and the United States to repent for its racism.[1]

Biography[edit]

Moore was born near Grand Saline and grew up in a town he described as a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan that was blighted by racial discrimination. As a 10-year-old boy, he was deeply affected by accounts of blacks who had been brutally decapitated and had their heads placed on poles.[2] Moore graduated from Tyler Junior College in 1954,[3] then earned a B.A. degree from Southern Methodist University in 1956 and a B.D. from Perkins School of Theology at SMU in 1956. He served in various Texas churches from 1953 until 1965 when he began post doctorate studies at Harvard Divinity School and Boston University. In the mid 1960s he moved to Chicago and began working for the Ecumenical Institute. This work took him to Africa, Brussels, India and the Middle East. In 1990 Moore led Grace Methodist church in Austin Texas, where he opened the doors to gays and lesbians.[4]

Protests[edit]

While serving in San Antonio in 1972, Moore organized a meeting of Methodists to bring attention to the injustice of the Vietnam War.[5] When the United Methodist bishops held a worldwide meeting in Austin in 1995, Moore's 15 day hunger strike ended only after the bishops acknowledged their role in contributing to stigma and ostracism of gays and lesbians. [6] Moore helped organize the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP), which operates as a resource for those opposed to capital punishment.[7] In 2000 he received awards from Parents & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and TCADP.[3]

Self-immolation[edit]

On June 23, 2014 Moore drove from his home in the Dallas suburb of Allen, Texas to Grand Saline, about 75 miles east of Dallas. He parked his car in a shopping center parking lot on the far eastern part of the city. He then proceeded poured gasoline on himself and set himself ablaze.[8] Bystanders retrieved a store fire extinguisher and put out the blaze. He was taken by helicopter to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, and died there later that night.[1]

Explanation of death[edit]

Moore left a typed note on his car stating he was born in Grand Saline and grew up around racial discrimination. The note explained that his act was a protest of what he saw as Grand Saline's long-standing racist culture.[1] He said that the Grand Saline community shunned blacks and resorted to violence, including hangings, burnings and decapitations. Declaring himself heartbroken, he lamented that America and Grand Saline had never really repented for the atrocities of slavery. [9]

Moore himself predicted that some would judge him insane. [10] His papers and personal notes were released to the media, revealing his thinking and intentions. In the weeks leading up to his death, he wrote that his mental and physical health were good, but he was frustrated that he had been unable to bring about the social change he felt was so urgent. In the notes, Moore sometimes criticizes himself harshly for not acting more decisively on social justice issues. He wanted the act of his death to get more people to care about gay rights, the death penalty, civil rights and racism.

Initially he had planned his self-immolation on the SMU campus on June 19, the annual Juneteenth commemoration, because of the decision by SMU to house the George W. Bush Presidential Center. He changed his mind and went to Grand Saline four days later to carry out his plan. After reading Moore's notes, family members concluded that his final act was an extension of his lifelong commitment to social justice.[6]

An in depth article in Texas Monthly examining Moore's death quoted family members, "He wanted his death to count for something." [11]

Reaction and criticism[edit]

Moore, along with many of his supporters were criticized by Grand Saline residents and political and social conservatives for his actions and the intentions behind them. Many residents of Grand Saline rebutted his claims that there were poles where murdered black residents had their heads placed on the top. A local newspaper editor pointed to historical references and documented town history that showed that the reason for the name "Poletown" was due to the settlements of cabins and homes made by wooden poles. The editor supplied photographs of pole cabins to verify her claims. The town police chief also said that race was "not a problem at all here" (Grand Saline) as once had been. Others noted that all of East Texas had been known for its racial tensions and that the actions and attitudes toward African Americans was not exclusive to just Grand Saline. Various conservative ministers were critical of the self immolation. One Baptist pastor in nearby Tyler, Texas said "he (Moore) may or may not have been troubled, but if he honestly believes that he can give his life and it change anything wrong with the world, he must have forgotten that Jesus Christ did that 2,000 years ago. Christ's sacrifice was perfect, unfortunately Mr. Moore's was flawed, and deeply so."

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Villarreal, Daniel (December 1, 2015). "Why A 79-Year-Old Progressive Methodist Minister Burned Himself Alive | Unicorn Booty". Unicorn Booty. Retrieved 2015-12-17. 
  2. ^ Lindsey Bever (2014-07-16). "A Texas minister set himself on fire and died to inspire justice". Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-07-23. 
  3. ^ a b A Service of Worship in Memory of the life and ministry of Rev. Charles Robert Moore, June 12, 2014, Faith Presbyterian Church, Austin, Texas
  4. ^ Melissa Repko (2014-07-12). "In dying act, minister hoped to inspire change". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 2014-07-20. 
  5. ^ "Methodist Meeting Will Eye Viet War". San Antonio Express. 1972-05-30. Retrieved 2014-07-23. 
  6. ^ a b Sam Hodges (2014-07-02). "Retired pastor saw ‘destiny’ in self-immolation". United Methodist News. Retrieved 2014-07-20. 
  7. ^ Antonia Blumberg (2014-07-15). "Rev. Charles Moore, Pastor Who Self-Immolated, Spent A Lifetime Protesting Injustice". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2014-07-23. 
  8. ^ Rebecca Hoeffner (2014-07-02). "Up in flames: Self-immolation dates to political, religious figures inworld history". Tyler Morning Telegraph. Retrieved 2014-07-20. 
  9. ^ Kenneth Dean (2014-07-01). "Madman or Martyr? Retired minister sets self on fire, dies". Tyler Morning Telegraph. Retrieved 2014-07-20. 
  10. ^ Rev. Jeff Hood (2014-07-03). "Dont You Dare Turn Your Head: The Self-Immolation of The Rev. Charles Moore". Retrieved 2014-07-27. 
  11. ^ Michael Hall (December 2014). "Man on Fire". Texas Monthly. Retrieved 2015-06-28.