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Mary Rhodes reads from a threatening letter she received that calls for her to step down from her role as pastor at Society Hill AME Church. WMBF News

Three female pastors at black churches in rural areas of South Carolina have received threatening letters in recent weeks because they are women, according to local news station WMBF-News in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Pastor Mary Rhodes of Society Hill AME in Manning was the first to receive the letter on June 10; it was left on the front door of her church. It threatened her life and the life of her children, said Rhodes.

Four days later, Pastor Valarie Bartley of Reevesville AMA Church, also in Manning, received a similar note. A pastor at a third church which has not been named also received a threatening letter, according to the Clarendon County Sheriff Office.

“The blood of the people will be on your hand and the women must repent and turn away from what you are doing in the church,” the letter to Bartley read. Signed by “Apostle Prophet Harry Leon Fleming,” the letter adds that “the woman cannot be head of the man in church, home and the world.”

“A lot of people do not respect female pastors,” Pastor Rhodes said. “Sexism in the church has been around for the longest time and it always gets, to my opinion, sort of hidden under the other issues that are there.”

Investigators are looking into the source of the letter.

“The Clarendon County Sheriff's Office is continuing their quest in attempt to locate the person or persons responsible for distributing the letters and will have deputies posted at every church that received the letter,” Clarendon County Sheriff Randy Garrett said in a statement. “The citizens of Clarendon County will be able to worship in peace.”

The threats came around the same time a gunman opened fire on a Bible study group at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17, killing nine people.