Florida pastor causes fury and embarrassment

Article for St Catharines Standard newspaper by Peter Youngren.

Florida pastor causes fury and embarrassment

By Peter Youngren

I knew Terry Jones 15 years ago. At the time, he was pastor of a large church in Germany; and for a couple of years, he invited me as the guest speaker for their summer convention. He was a pretty radical man back then.  I didn’t feel entirely comfortable, and when he invited me for a third time, I didn’t go. Still, I never expected Terry Jones to cause so much fury. This week, just about every news site in the world has reported on his “Burn the Koran” day, scheduled for September 11th. Jones claims to want to honor those who died nine years ago, and send a warning to radical Islam at the same time. 

According to an ABC report, Jones’ church in Gainesville, Florida, had about thirty worshippers last Sunday, but size is no deterrent, as even the president is paying attention.  White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said that the anti-Islamic protest could endanger the lives of American soldiers. His words were echoed by General David Petraeus, who stated that images of a burning Koran would incite violence around the world. Similar condemnations were issued by the US embassy in Kabul, the NATO Secretary General, and the US State Department, who went a step further, “This is inconsistent with American values. In fact, these actions themselves are un-American.” 

Hopefully, by the time you read this article Jones will have stepped back from his reckless behavior. General Petraeus stated that the Koran burning could potentially damage relations between the West and the Islamic world, much like the photographs showing the abuse of Muslim inmates at Abu Graib prison did four years ago.  My guess is that if anything could sway Jones, it would be a word from the military.

Jones appeals to his constitutional rights and certainly any citizen of a free country is able to buy a book and burn it, if he so desires. Constitutional rights aside, Jones currently carries a holster with a .40 caliber pistol—just in case.  His bank has demanded an immediate repayment of the $140,000 balance on the church’s mortgage; and the church’s property insurance has been cancelled. Jones certainly has painted himself in a corner by stating that he believes Jesus would have joined in the Koran-burning project. 

My concern is not Terry Jones. He is an extremist, and most people would not want to be associated with his inflammatory rhetoric. To me he is an embarrassment. Still, I suspect that he has more silent supporters than one might expect. Why are many of those who follow the Prince of Peace so quick to attack and condemn? It’s not just Christians fighting Muslims, but Christians fight other Christians, shoot their wounded, all the while, beating their breasts in self-righteousness.

 

Last night Grace TV aired “Confessions of a former Muslim-hater.” My guest described how he got caught up in a militant type of Christianity where one feels free to condemn and hate. There is no reason to belittle the grave differences between Islam and Christianity, but maybe we should also look at what we have in common. The Koran has much to say about Jesus; he was born of a virgin, he is the Word of God, the Messiah, and he will be held in honor in this world and the world hereafter. Astonishingly, the Koran also depicts Jesus as the only sinless prophet. Islam’s holy book refers to Jesus ninety-seven times, even more than the prophet Mohammed is mentioned. 

 

King Solomon wrote, “Any fool can start a quarrel.” Terry Jones is a good example. Just speak evil of others, and soon you’ll have a fight on your hand. Solomon continues, “A wise person makes friends.” Whether Jones goes ahead with his Koran burning day or not, make no mistake, his proposed action doesn’t represent Jesus. Two thousand years ago, Jesus exemplified the principle Solomon had articulated. Jesus befriended Jews, Samaritans and Romans equally.  Maybe it’s time for Muslims, Christians and Terry Jones to take another look at Jesus. 

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