Little Hope Was Arson

By Kristen Johnson

Little Hope Was Arson is a documentary about two young men who were convicted of burning down 10 churches in East Texas. It’s really a heartbreaking film that discusses their childhoods, their family and friends, the heartbreak of the church-going community, and ultimately the sentencing of Jason Bourque and Daniel McAllister to multiple life-sentences in prison for their crimes.

The film raises a number of complicated questions about the status of mental health in the U.S., drug use, the morality of turning in family members for crimes, and forgiveness. Although they both put varying degrees of blame on drug use, neither has denied the crimes and both have expressed remorse.

The interviews from various church congregants were both heartbreaking and unbelievable. Viewers won’t necessarily see a whole lot of love and forgiveness for these boys. But, sentencing for these crimes begs the question – does the punishment fit the crime?

I can’t imagine losing my Church building to arson, but it is in fact a building. God is with me wherever I go and I don’t need a building for worship if there isn’t one available.

Matthew 18:20 (NRSV): For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

It’s pretty shocking to discover at the end of the film that the two young men convicted of burning down the 10 Churches will never leave prison. Clearly, arson is a punishable offense, but multiple life sentences? Refusing to forgive and move on, as some of the interviewees indicated – is that appropriate?

Arson is a second-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in a state prison, unless the fire involves a church or someone is hurt or killed. In those cases, it is a first-degree felony, which could carry a life sentence. (

Viewers of the documentary may wonder if the multiple life sentences would have been imposed if the Churches burned were Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Halls, Buddhist Temples, or Jewish Synagogues instead of what they were – Protestant Churches.

Again, arson is a felony and anyone convicted of such an offense should face a stiff penalty. I don’t have all the answers, but I wonder if multiple life sentences is fitting the crime, and whether or not these young men can instead make restitution in some way and receive rehabilitation to then lead productive lives outside prison.

Matthew 6:14-15 (NRSV): 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Serve all with love.

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