Man, Terry Jones knows how to get people’s attention.
Jones is the Florida pastor who was planning to burn copies of the Qu’ran on the anniversary of 9-11. Right now it doesn’t look like he’s going to go through with it, but not because he realized that it runs counter to the teachings of Jesus, but because he’s hoping to broker a deal concerning the mosque near Ground Zero.
I’m not sure what he wants to accomplish, but he sure has had some important people dialing his number. The heads of two large Evangelical groups, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the World Evangelical Alliance, have called him. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Gen. David H. Petraeus, conservative commentator Glenn Beck, even Angelina Jolie have all reached out to him. Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, has called him twice, and only got voice mail. I mean, how busy (or self-important) are you that you blow off a call from Billy Graham’s son?
He’s been asked to consider the way this act could endanger U.S. troops serving in Muslim countries. He’s been asked to consider how much harm this would do to Christian missionary efforts around the world. I just want to ask him when’s the last time he read the red letters in his Bible. This is the kind of thing that seems so obviously antithetical to the teachings of Jesus—you know, the guy who said, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you”—that it’s hard to believe anyone could honestly read the New Testament and come away thinking that this represents Christ in any fashion.
Well, it does, but not in a good way. What’s ironic is that in Pakistan protestors have taken to the streets, burning the American flag and effigies of Uncle Sam; doesn’t Jones see that there is really no difference between the two actions? In trying to draw a distinction between “Christian America” and the Muslim world, he’s demonstrating that religious extremists are all the same, whether Christian or Muslim.
Most people understand that this doesn’t put Christianity in a good light. The president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Leith Anderson, issued a statement Wednesday asking Muslims not to judge "all Christians by the behavior of one extremist. One person with 30 silent followers does not speak for 300 million Americans who will never burn a Koran."
Anderson is right, and I hope that the majority of Christians realize that the same holds true for Islam. I bring this up because of the negative reaction of so many people toward the plan to build a Muslim community center a few blocks from Ground Zero. I don’t know how far “a few blocks” is, but I like what one very insightful young woman in our church’s youth group said: “Well, how far away is far enough? A mile? Five miles? Outside the city?”
I understand those who say that these plans are insensitive to the feelings of Americans in general and New Yorkers in particular, especially those who lost friends and family members in the Twin Towers attack, and just as Terry Jones should respect the sensitivities of Muslims, so should the planners of the community center respect the feelings of others. Fair point.
But what if we took this as an opportunity to show the world what Americans in general and Christians in particular can be when we are at our best? What if we let them build the center as a way of saying, “This is what we do: when religious extremists attack us and kill innocent people, we don’t respond with fear, with hate, with revenge, with flag- or Qu’ran-burning; we don’t even respond with mere tolerance. We respond with love.” It seems to me that a Muslim community center within sight of Ground Zero is not an affront to either American or Christian values, but rather that in allowing it, we embody the values of religious freedom and freedom of expression. Let other countries and other faiths persecute those of differing viewpoints, burning their flags or their sacred texts.
We can offer the world a different way.