- Police in Clarksville are investigating who burned a cross in front of a church and why.

Sgt. Charles Gill told The Leaf-Chronicle the case is classified as a hate crime because it met all the criteria for reporting hate crimes to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations and the FBI.

Gill says investigators have no leads initially.

A church member saw the cross propped up against a closed gate at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church's parking lot Tuesday morning and reported it to the police. Other than scorch marks on the gate, there was no property damage.

Pastor Vernon Hooks said, "Whoever did it, we forgive him," as the charred remnants of the cross lay on the ground not far from where he stood.

"That's the message, that we are a forgiving church and we'll let the police do their job," Hooks said.

So far, no one has reported seeing anything unusual. It appears the cross may have been burned overnight Monday or early Tuesday morning.

Gill said there have been a number of vandalism cases in the area committed by juveniles but no other cross burnings. He said police are investigating the possibility that juveniles are responsible for the burned cross and may not understand the consequences that go along with a hate crime.

"They may think they are being funny," he said.

"We've heard no chatter of hate groups in town, and we usually would hear about that," Gill said.

Hooks said the church, with between 150 and 200 active members, had received no other hateful messages or threats and he did not know who might have committed the crime.

"We have no idea," he said. "I've been here 34 years, and this never has happened."