Sunday, September 12, 2010

Terry Jones and the Koran Stunt

Unless you've been hiding under a rock lately, you know who Terry Jones is and you have heard about his (now canceled) plans to publicly burn thousands of copies of the Koran on 9/11, which is the anniversary of the world trade center suicide bombings. And, like The Good News We Almost Forgot author and Michigan pastor Kevin DeYoung recently pointed out, you have probably noticed that it seems like "everybody and their brother has denounced this event and wants to see it halted." Well it has been halted. But according to the Globe and Mail it wasn't because Pastor Terry Jones bowed to international pressure, it's because he never intended to burn the Koran in the first place. The whole thing was a Stunt With A Purpose. After telling NBC that he will 'not now, not ever' burn the Koran, he explains "that his Gainesville, Fla., church's goal was 'to expose that there is an element of Islam that is very dangerous and very radical.' He tells NBC that 'we have definitely accomplished that mission.'"

Does This Change Everything?
Now that we know Pastor Terry Jones' reasons for pulling this stunt, namely, that he was attempting to expose Islam's inherent radicalism and extremism before the world, should this change our opinion of him? Let's recap: (1) His stated goal was to 'expose that there is an element of Islam that is very dangerous and radical'--not of Muslims, but of Islam: there is a core element of the religion itself which results in extremism; (2) The world panicked, not because it valued tolerance (that too, though,) but because it came to a realization that Islam is dangerous and that a show of disrespect to it could result in the loss of many lives; (3) Where many formerly made the case that Islam is a religion of peace, their logical fear has made them realize that I. that is not true, and II. that they never really believed that in the first place. All in all, dare I say it, the eccentric pastor of 50 in Florida has done pretty well. It's not every day that a small time pastor of a declining church can truthfully claim to have exposed Islam before the eyes of the entire world. Let me clarify, had he actually burned the Koran, I had a condemnatory blog post all thought out, lined up, and ready to roll. But now that he has said "I never intended to do such a thing: I just sat back and let Islam show itself for what it really is," my opinion is changing. My opinion is changing because his intention seems like a good one. I'm no fan of Islam, and I do believe that it is inherently dangerous and not of Divine origin (quite the opposite). My opinion is changing because he seems to have succeeded in his efforts. My opinion is changing because Pastor Jones has done this at the risk of great harm to his life, and because he did it even though all the world would hate him, and he took all of that personal damage in stride just to get this done. Those are things that could change my opinion of this whole debacle.

What We Should Do Now
How should we respond to the events of the last few weeks/months?

First, we should love all Muslims. Christians who believe that the origins of Islam are pretty dark should not respond with hatred, but with compassion: if we believe them to be trapped by a harmful, destructive, and demonic worldview, then our weapons should not be billboards and megaphones and book burnings; they should be our time and energy and mercy; We should "not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12.21). Show Muslims the way through love instead of demonstration.

Second, we should not be quick to cut off Christians who take unpopular stands. One of the results of Relevant-style Christianity (see: cool christianity) is that we, in the name of relevance, tend to disassociate from anything or anybody that could make people think negatively about us. Even if those things or people are actually not all that bad in the first place. We do this because we want people to like us and say good things about us, but sometimes we just have to say, about the guy who calls Islam evil on national television, "actually I'm going to have to side with him on this one." Take the hate, and give love. If you only say popular things, you become a sycophant, and nobody wants to hear the words of a flatterer and cultural groveller.

Third, we as Christians should strive to learn about other religions. One of the critiques of Terry Jones was that Christians should learn about people that they disagree with instead of holding small-minded book burnings. That advice is pretty solid, I think. How can we preach to people we don't understand? Find your nearest Buddhist, Muslim, or Wiccan book shop and ask for some recommendations. You can't convince someone to follow Jesus if you don't know what their beliefs are or how their thoughts are being formed through what they are reading. Therefore, be voracious readers: seek to know those who you would try to reach with the Gospel.

Fourth, we should put our identity in Christ, not in our nation of birth. In my original (planned) denunciation of Terry Jones, I was working off the impression that he was letting his felt offense as an American overshadow his real identity as a follower of Christ: I though t that he was doing all of this only because he wanted to send a message to Muslims to leave America alone, or else. Even though his reasons have been stated more fully than that now, Terry Jones reminds us that we should "seek the good of the city" (or nation) where we are in but that we should not necessarily identify with it and see it as our home. Our home is with Christ in heaven; here, as 1 Peter makes clear, we are just passing through.

What are your thoughts on this whole news event?



  1. Hey Sean, really well written. Good view point on this all. I guess I was a little quick to judge him too. Although I wonder what the pushback effect of this is going to have on Christianity now with people frantically trying to prove to Muslims that Christians don't actually hate their religion and would never disrespect their holy book! know what I mean?

  2. I judged this by a legal standpoint as well as an decorum standpoint. But I didn't think to judge it like this. You have a good point my good friend. I thought, under our 1st Amendment right, he had the right, as protected under Freedom of Speech, to burn the Qur'an, but it would be distasteful.

  3. Hey thanks for the feedback both of you.

    @Kendra: There is a lot of pent-up hostility on the different sides of the Christian-Muslim divide already; they never entirely got over the Crusades, or Western interference, or a bunch of other issues. If those things weren't already in play then this pastor's "International Burn a Koran Day" would probably not have gotten the reaction that it did. This one event is not really a game changer either way, except for the awareness that it created about Islam.

    @Fleetpaw: Hey, welcome to The Voice! Hope to see you around more often. Anyhow, I agree that if Jones had burnt the Qu'ran then it would have been an abuse of Freedom of Speech rights. Not to mention just all around bad manners.

  4. Thank you for the warm welcome, Stunt... I like your little set up... Its nice and quaint and cozy. I just can't help but think that now Muslims have an even more negative view of Christians thanks to this man then they already have of us. There really isn't anything that we can do that we haven't already done. All we can do is show them the Love of Christ.

    I think you may have misunderstood me, or you mistyped... It would have been within his right to burn them, such as it is in other's rights to burn the American Flag (its treasonous, in my view, but it is well within their rights to as American citizens) but it would have been extremely distasteful. Or maybe I am just reading it wrong.

    I think that it is a combination of both those items that creates the pent up hostility... plus the United States support of Israel and alot of other things that are just way out of our control. Eh, If we don't get it in this life, we can always figure stuff out when we get to Heaven, right?

  5. Glad you like the layout man, hope you think the new setup is pretty good too; things are still changing around here on a relatively constant basis.

    I had forgotten about US support of Israel! Yeah, that probably doesn't help either. Some of the problems that contribute to Muslim-Christian tension are, like you said, beyond our control, and US involvement in Israel is probably one of those. And, really, I don't know what to think about Israel anyways... yes their occupation of the land is oppressive, but it was oppressive a few thousand years ago when God originally led them into the area in the first place. If the guiding hand of Providence is evident, maybe that should have an impact on our interpretation of events.

    Oh, and I do agree that burning the Qu'ran would have been "extremely distasteful." Saying it would have been "bad manners" was kind of an ironic understatement. I have to remember that irony doesn't always get communicated well over the internet.


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