Most people have, by now, heard about Reverend Terry Jones. He’s the pastor of a small church in Gainesville, Florida who plans to burn copies of the Qur’an this Saturday evening September 11, the 9th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by Muslim extremists. If you haven’t heard about it, here’s the story.
Reverend Jones and his congregants appear to be unwavering in their commitment to carry out the burning.
Condemnation of his congregation’s proposed act has been swift, strong, and quite universal. General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James F. Jeffrey warn of the reaction of extremists that will likely incite violence in places around the world. The Vatican called the plan “an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community.” Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and presidential adviser David Axelrod joined in the chorus of condemnation. President Obama calls the church’s plans a “destructive act” that may have a dangerous fallout.
Situations like this tend to stiffen the resolve of both opponents and supporters. The result is typically further separation, alienation, and misunderstanding among opposing sides.
I was born and raised in the Christian Church. I’m a graduate of both a Christian high school and college. I left the church three decades ago in large part because of self-proclaimed Christians who quoted scripture to justify actions that I believed were unjust and un-Christian. I considered such people crackpots that often caused more harm than good.
The easy thing to do is to condemn Reverend Jones; to call him a crackpot or worse. Incidents like this often make the news because they are fascinating. But watching Reverend Jones being interviewed was an eerie reminder to me of another Reverend Jones who was responsible for the deaths of 900 followers in Guyana in 1978.
No sane person would follow such paths, right? Wrong. It happens far too often. And the likelihood that burning 200 copies of the Qur’an will lead to violent reprisals elsewhere, leading to injury or death of other people, seems likely. Causing harm leads to more harm.
So what would Jesus do?
Reverend Jones claims that Jesus would burn the Qur’an. He’s wrong. Jones asks, “When do we stop backing down?” The answer can be found in Matthew 15:21-22.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”
I realize, of course, that this assumes that the Muslim religion has somehow “sinned” against Reverend Jones, his congregants, or Christianity in general. That is not the case. But Reverend Jones appears to believe this. He appears to see Christianity as the one true religion and Islam is thus a threat to the truth. He may be adamantly opposed to the building of a mosque in Manhattan. I have no idea. What seems clear to me is that he’s being quite selective in his choice of which scriptures to follow. By taking the actions he says he and his followers will take on September 11–and will do so while being armed with guns–he pays no heed to Luke 6:31
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
What’s really troubling for Reverend Jones is what comes just before that verse…
But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
Reverend Jones seems to clearly see Muslims as his enemy. Is burning their holy book doing good? Blessing them? Turning the other cheek? He also pays no attention to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5
Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Nowhere does Jesus bless the warmongers, the inciters, or the violent. Reverend Jones says he and his followers “are prepared to give our lives for this particular message and cause.”
So what can we do?
Recognize that Reverend Jones isn’t just a crackpot. He’s our fellow traveler in this life. That’s often a hard pill to swallow. We may be appalled by his choices but we are children of the same human family. I believe he has been deeply damaged. That damage has led him to harm himself and others. It’s easy to dismiss him, to hate him, to attack him.
What’s hard is to love him. What’s hard is to engage him in a conversation about the true, radical, peace-building, loving-at-all-costs message of Jesus that he is ignoring by strapping a revolver to his waist while striking a match to holy books on a Saturday night. I hope that someone in Gainesville, Florida will do the hard thing with Reverend Jones and try to reach out to him as a neighbor.
When a lawyer asked Jesus how to achieve eternal life Jesus said in Luke 10 that he should love God with all his heart and to love his neighbor as himself. When the lawyer asked Jesus to explain who he should consider his neighbor Jesus told the parable of The Good Samaritan.
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The Samaritan in this story is the Muslim of Reverend Jones’s.
Reverend Jones, if you are a true follower of Jesus the radical act is not burning the Qur’an. The radical act is to put down your weapons and love your Muslim neighbor. That’s what Jesus would do. Go and do likewise.
Reverend Jones, follow the Jesus-like examples of Susan Retik and Patti Quigley, whose husbands died in the 9/11 attack. They have invested their lives in overcoming poverty and illiteracy in Afghanistan. Go and do likewise.
As I suspect is the case with you, Reverend Jones, I don’t know enough about Islam. So I’m going to join a growing movement of people around the United States who oppose what you are planning to do on Saturday in Gainesville. I’m going to pick up a copy of the Qur’an this weekend. I’m not going to burn it. I’m going to read it. I’m going to learn more about my Muslim sisters and brothers.
I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus would do. I encourage you to go and do likewise.