Given the global attention received last fall by the Florida pastor who announced that he would burn the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11, I was frankly surprised to learn that he had found a way to break his promise and burn one anyway.
Pastor Terry Jones and his congregation at Dove World Outreach Center had managed to stay below the national media radar. Most people probably forgot about them in places other than their community of Gainesville, Fla.
But they have certainly been caught in the radar now, having done something even more daring and despicable than the demeaning act of burning a copy of the Quran.
The pastor held court with the Quran as the defendant.
On Mar. 20, Jones set himself up as the judge, invited a Muslim who had converted to Christianity to serve as prosecuting attorney, and the president of the Islamic Center of Texas to act as defense attorney. “Expert” witnesses included other Muslims who had converted to Christianity.
What were the charges?
In his video on the Stand Up America website, Jones said, “We are accusing the Koran of murder, rape, deception, being responsible for terrorist activities all around the world. We are accusing the Koran of these violent acts.”
Anticipating a “guilty” verdict, the question announced in advance on the lawn of the church’s property was whether the Quran should be burned, drowned, shredded or shot.
Apparently, an outcome like “respected” or “protected,” to say nothing of “honored” or “esteemed,” was not a possibility. Following the jury’s rendering of the expected verdict, the Koran was soaked in kerosene and ignited, like charcoal in a barbecue pit.
In spite of all the absurdity and chicanery of this “mock trial” and the sophomoric behavior of its mastermind, there is nothing in this whole affair that is amusing.
To the contrary, it is not only a shameful display of religious bigotry and ignorance, but also a burlesque-like mockery of our system of jurisprudence. All things considered, it is a frighteningly childish act.
Violence, whether real or symbolic, has no legitimate place in the conduct of the Christian and the community of faith in the world.
This is true whether the one on whom violence is inflicted is another human being whose religion is different than Christianity, a different form of Christianity, or a tangible symbol or artifact that carries the weight of divine presence and moral authority for a religious tradition other than one’s own.
Socioeconomic and cultural dominance do not confer the right to demean others by infringing on their religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
Just because one believes oneself and one’s group to be in the right or the one true way, there is neither social, civil or religious sanction to injure or harass another.
What is so alarming about this act is the extent to which Jones and his flock have gone to accomplish now what they set out to do last fall, in spite of Jones’ promise that he would not burn the Quran.
All the reasons given then for not burning a copy of the Quran still apply: inflaming the Muslim world, aiding and abetting al-Qaeda’s recruitment, putting U.S. military personnel forces at greater risk and so on.
But surrounding oneself with the accoutrement of justice and feigning to sit in judgment on the sacred literature of 23 percent of the world’s population, about whom one really – and evidently – knows next to nothing, is a most disturbing demonstration of antipathy in search of a venue in order to attract attention and stoke further the barbecue pit of mind-numbing evil.
It is as though the Bible, the sacred literature of the Christian faith, does not contain a single word about living peaceably with others, loving others as oneself, extending hospitality to strangers, or discerning what is good, acceptable and perfect in the will of God.
On what grounds, moral or otherwise, can one defend the defamation of another? Certainly not on any grounds mined from Christian Scripture.
Douglas Sharp is dean of the Academy for the Common Good, an initiative of Protestants for the Common Good, a progressive voice that brings a biblical and theological perspective to critical public issues. Sharp is an ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches-USA.
Editor’s Note: “Different Books, Common Word” can be viewed here.