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Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Burning Question in Florida

By: Carl Holland

There has been much debate and media coverage over the Gainesville, Florida pastor, Terry Jones, who plans to burn copies of the Quran (or Koran) on 9/11. The overwhelming opinion seems to be that he is in the wrong, and that this action does nothing but show hatred. I would agree with that, but let’s see what God has to say.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor
and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, l
ove your enemies, bless those who curse you,
do good to those who hate you,
and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
that you may be sons of your Father in heaven;
for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good,
and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?
Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only,
what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?
Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
– Matthew 5:43-48

These are red letters in my Bible. Jesus Himself said to “love your enemies.” Somehow I don’t think burning Qurans is showing love to your enemies. Yes, Muslims can be considered “enemies” because the Quran does teach that non-Muslims should be converted or killed (Quran Sura 009.005). There is, however, an exception for Jews and Christians, whom the Quran calls “People of the Book.” They can pay a poll tax to the Muslim authorities (Quran Sura 009.029) and be allowed to continue to practice their faith. Regardless of their view toward Christians, we are still to treat them with love, even to the point of death. In Acts 7:60 we see Stephen, the first Christian martyr, call out to God saying, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” as he was being stoned to death. Jesus Himself, as he hung on the cross being murdered, called out, “forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they do.” Considering the words Jesus left us with, and the example he set for us, what gives any of us the right to say we have a better way to deal with our “enemies?”

When people think of book burning, the first thing many think of is Nazi Germany in the 1930s, but it has a long, sordid history elsewhere too, including the United States of America. On May 10, 1933, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, gave a rousing speech to university students inflaming anti-Semitism and calling for all literature with “un-German” ideas to be burned in a massive bonfire. Of course, we know, this was just a stepping stone leading down the path to World War Two and the Holocaust, which many Muslim leaders, such as Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have denied ever even happened.

Long before that, the Catholic Church had a history of censuring books by burning beginning in the Middle Ages. Initially the censorship was intended to remove writings containing doctrinal errors and those of superstitious works. The Church began maintaining the Index of Prohibited Books which catalogued works which were reviewed and found to be “unfit.” With the invention of the printing press came the widespread dissemination of books on any subject imaginable. Books deemed to be contrary to Catholic doctrine, containing immoral material, or even reprints of the Bible itself began to be rounded up and burned. This, in part, helped lead to the Protestant Reformation. The Church finally ceased publication of the Index in 1966 under Pope Paul VI.

In the US in 1866, Anthony Comstock began an organization called the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. In 1873 he convinced Congress to pass the Act of the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use, commonly known as the Comstock Act. He was made a Special Agent of the Post Office by an act of Congress which gave him the power to arrest distributors of material he deemed to be lewd or immoral. He claimed to have burned 160 tons of obscene material and arrested around 3600 distributors of said material. More recently in the US, in 2003 pastors T. D. Turner Sr. and T. D. Turner Jr. burned a Harry Potter book outside their church. The younger Turner even admitted to not having read the book, but that he could tell by its cover that it promoted sorcery. The crowd of around 50 spectators was so inflamed (pardon the pun) that they also burned a Book of Mormon and even a Bible that, Heaven forbid, was not the King James Version!

Even more memorably in recent history because of its widespread news coverage was the 1988 publication of Salmon Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. After its release Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Rushdie calling for his execution. The book itself was not directly critical of Islam or Mohammed. The portions which caused such uproar were concerning dreams a fictional character who was suffering some form of psychosis was having. Muslim groups in Britain held protests and book burning events. Then there was the February 2006 publication of a cartoon caricature of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban that sparked protests, violence, and death threats by Muslims worldwide. It seems that anything critical of or offensive to Islam is met with violence.

The top NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, has stated, "Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult." Images of the church members burning Qurans will be used to fuel anti-American sentiment and to incite violence against Americans, very similar to what was done with the photos of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib detention center a few years ago. Florida Governor Charlie Crist chimed in on the issue with, "In addition to being offensive, the Gainesville protest puts at risk those brave Americans who are fighting abroad for the freedoms and values that we believe in as Americans." Mr. Jones’ plan to burn the Quran has received so much attention that protests are already beginning over it. Muslim cleric Mohammad Mukhtar, a candidate for the Afghan parliament stated, "It is the duty of Muslims to react." He went on to say, “When their holy book Quran gets burned in public, then there is nothing left. If this happens, I think the first and most important reaction will be that wherever Americans are seen, they will be killed. No matter where they will be in the world they will be killed." If Mr. Jones goes through with his plans to burn the Quran, reprisals are certain to come against American troops in the Middle East, which quite simply makes it an act of sedition, or perhaps even treason.

Mr. Jones, I must ask, just what do you hope to accomplish by doing this? Do you want to make yourself a target like what happened to Salmon Rushdie? Do you have a death wish to die as a “martyr?” That is a very real possibility. Or is it your intent to gain some sort of notoriety and bring attention to your church, good or bad, like some sort of free advertising? At the very least, you are casting a bad light on Christianity, much like people who bomb abortion clinics “in the name of Jesus.” How many people will you drive away from Christ by misrepresenting Him and reinforcing the mistaken impression that Christians are a bunch of “narrow-minded, bigoted, hypocrites” rather than pointing them to Him by reflecting His character? Though you are well within your constitutional rights to conduct your Quran burning, after all, we can legally burn the American flag as “free speech,” there are a few passages of scripture I think you’ve overlooked.

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful;
all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.
Let no one seek his own, but each one
the other’s well-being. – 1 Corinthians 10:23-24

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do,
do all to the glory of God.
Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks
or to the church of God,
just as I also please all men in all things,
not seeking my own profit,
but the profit of many,
that they may be saved. – 1 Corinthians 10:31-33

We give no offense in anything,
that our ministry may not be blamed.
But in all things we commend ourselves
as ministers of God. – 2 Corinthians 6:3-4

Though I may agree with you that Islam is a false religion, I believe your method of delivering that message is severely flawed. I do not see the love of Jesus anywhere in what you plan to do. Is there anything at all that can possibly be called helpful or edifying in any of this? It certainly does seem to give a lot of offense. I urge you, sir, to reconsider your plans and honestly ask yourself, “am I serving myself, or Christ?” Are you prepared to have the blood of innocent Americans on your hands? You have been quoted as saying, “We are not convinced that backing down is the right thing.” Don’t let your own selfish pride or ambition get in the way of doing the right thing.
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