Gov. Cecil Underwood made it clear Thursday afternoon that he believes his own church shares the blame for a bomb threat that forced the state Capitol to be evacuated in early July.
Underwood said a Methodist conference resolution expressing concern about mountaintop removal coal mining encouraged the anonymous threat.
"That's what I said," Underwood said, declining to back off a statement made earlier in the day.
"I think passing resolutions with no reasoned debate within a high-emotional issue inflames public opinion," the governor said after a photo opportunity. "Public bodies have to take responsibility for their rhetoric."
Underwood said the language of the bomb threat letter received by his office mirrored that of the Methodist resolution - but State Police have refused to release the entire text of the bomb threat letter.
The governor dismissed any suggestion that taking on the church where he taught Sunday school would hurt him politically.
"My point is not to pick a fight with the church," Underwood said, "but to seek their help in seeking a balance."
A spokesman for the state's 120,000 Methodists was surprised and perplexed by the governor's comments.
"To suggest a connection between a threatening bomb note and a resolution of the church is a stretch of enormous proportions," said Tom Burger, spokesman for the West Virginia convention of the United Methodist Church.
The co-chairman of the state Democratic Party called on Underwood, a Republican, to apologize.
"I don't understand Gov. Underwood's logic," said Steve White, a Charleston lawyer. "It is hard to believe that a politician with his experience would blame the Methodist church for the actions of an individual who is clearly disturbed.
"Gov. Underwood should apologize to West Virginia's religious community for his accusations."
Unlike old-time strip mines, mountaintop removal blasts and shaves off entire hilltops to reach valuable low-sulfur coal reserves. Leftover rock and earth are dumped into nearby valleys and streams.
Environmental groups and coalfield residents have led a more than yearlong campaign against mountaintop removal, receiving national publicity and the attention of federal regulatory agencies.
Much of the heat has focused on the Underwood administration because the governor signed a bill that makes it cheaper and easier for companies to dump mine waste into streams. In recent weeks, Underwood aides have tried to emphasize that mountaintop removal actually geared up under the Caperton administration.
In June, the state's Methodists approved a resolution that called on the state to halt all mountaintop removal mining "until scientific study of its long-term effect on human life and the natural environment has been accomplished."