HATRED has been compared to a plague - starting small but quickly growing large and destructive.Sometimes hate is acted out in what seems a simple form of justice just revenge." The deaths of five persons in Iowa last week, shot by a graduate student who felt his dissertation deserved a higher honor, is a tragic example. In Florida another kind of hatred is at work. In the past 15 months, 26 churches have been set on fire - 10 since Oct. 1. The churches tend to be in north and central Florida - Orlando, Ocala, Winter Park. But some fires have been set on the coasts - this week in Daytona Beach and south, in Miami. It is unknown whether the fires are started by one person or a group. The pattern has been cruelly ecumenical - churches of all denominations have been torched: Baptist, Church of God, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal. The historic First Baptist Church of Ocala, a town symbol built in 1878, was burned to the ground at a monetary loss of $4 million. First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Gainesville sustained $200,000 of damage on Oct. 22. Damage to a Christian Science church in Winter Haven last weekend was slight, as the fire was caught early on. The fires are set in the dead of night, when people are asleep - usually between 2 and 4 a.m. No "messages" or set of grievances have been given by the arsonists - save the act itself. Hate crime against churches may not attract the same degree of outrage as that directed against ethnic or racial groups. But it is no less egregious. Places of worship are built on and with the lives of people. However poorly or well they may fulfill their missions, churches are grass-roots efforts to worship God and help one's neighbor. They embody a deeply held right in America; there should be no apathy about this crime and what it represents. Two weeks ago a Baptist minister told his displaced congregation that their church was not dead. "It didn't work in the first century, burning Christians, and it won't work today..." he said. Amen.