Over the weekend, the (seemingly) perennial fire-starter and certifiable wingnut Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., a 50-member self-proclaimed Christian congragation, made good on his threats to burn a copy of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, in what he said was a protest of the ongoing incarceration of a Christian pastor in Iraq.
You may recognize Jones from his infamous 2011 Quran burning, one that federal authorities and President Obama personally attempted (in vain, sadly) to prevent the wrong-headed from what many critics feared would only serve to perpetuate further anti-American violence by so-called Islamic extremists and terrorists around the world.
This time, Jones claimed to be stoking his fires of unrest on behalf of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, a Muslim convert to Christianity who has been imprisoned by the Iranian government for nearly three years on charges of apostasy and reportedly is facing execution for his "crimes."
The Gainesville Sun newspaper reports that this weekend's Quran burning, which also included an effigy of Islam's Prophet Muhammad set aflame, took place in front of 20 spectators outside Jones' church, and the whole incident was broadcast live on the Internet.
Saturday's act of protest took place in spite of published reports that the Pentagon had urged Jones to reconsider, expressing concern that American soldiers in Afghanistan and elsewhere could be put at greater risk because of the act.
A little more than a year ago, on March 20, 2011, Dove World assistant pastor Wayne Sapp burned a copy of the Quran and broadcast it on the Internet. Reports and images of the Quran burning incited violence in northern Afghanistan in which at least 12 people were killed. Days later, a man wearing an Afghan border police uniform shot dead two American military personnel.
Dove World denied responsibility then for the deaths.
About 20 people gathered Saturday on church property at 5805 NW 37th Street about 5 p.m. for the planned burning. Several Gainesville police officers were stationed across the street from the church or were patrolling the area. A few people watched the scene, but there were no protesters.
Within days of Jones' Quran burning in April 2011, 22 UN workers and nine protesters were killed in Afghanistan, two were dead in Pakistan, while churches were attacked and Bibles burned in Hyderabad.
Jones' treacherous actions have been widely and loudly condemned by many religious leaders around the globe, including one of the world's largest evangelical Christian organizations.
“The burning of a sacred text is wrong and unwarranted," said Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, Secretary Geenral of the World Evangelical Alliance, which represents some 600 million evangelical Christians worldwide."The burning of the Quran is especially grievous to Muslims and does not reflect the biblical values nor the spirit of the Lord Jesus whom we serve.... We appeal to Islamic leaders worldwide to understand that this self-proclaimed antagonist does not represent Christians. Indeed he violates the call of Jesus to love people everywhere. Such violence does harm to us all.”
A report released by the WEA detailed behind-the-scenes efforts by Tunnicliffe and other Christian leaders, to convince Jones to abort his latest anti-Islamic stunt, which despite his public statements to the contrary Jones reportedly that the Nadarkhani cause was simply a current opportunity to object.
The WEA report says Jones' public burning followed a personal meeting and intense conversation just one day earlier with representatives of WEA, including Tunnicliffe, who personally challenged Jones to listen to fellow Christian leaders from North America — and if not them, at least those of a Christian pastor from an Islamic country. Rev. Daniel Ho of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was at the meeting requesting that Jones divert from this course of action, along with Dr. Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church in Orland and Dr. Brian Stiller, Global Ambassador for the WEA. The group met with Jones for approximately 90 minutes.
The report continues:
In meeting with Tunnicliffe and associates, Jones said that after spending 30 years in Cologne Germany, he returned to find his beloved America awash in moral corruption, weakened by a failing church, diminished by a “gutless” government and overrun by Islamic clerics and their threat of Sharia law. Jones said: “God spoke to me” about defacing Islam in desecrating its Qur’an and doing what he could to “wake up America.”
Operating under Stand Up America Now, an organization whose purpose, according to its website is "is to encourage Americans and the Church to stand up." Jones concedes this had nothing to do with Christian love or evangelism, but are “acts of resistance or revolution.”
Because love and evangelism were weak, “unable to make a dent,” Jones believed it was time to cause a stir. He says that he had no idea of the public interest in the public burning of Islam’s holy book: “I didn’t realize it would create such a stir.”
But he took that very stir as a sign: “God wanted me to get involved.” ...
“Would you be willing to come to Malaysia and look into the faces of my family and tell them why you burned the Qur’an, if your action caused my death?” asked Malaysian Pastor Ho. Jones had no answer.
Asked if he had ever met a Christian leader from a Muslim-dominated country, he laughed. When asked if he ever had concerns over what his actions and words did to Christians in such countries, he said, “I bear no responsibility.”
Pressed to line up his actions with biblical values and the call of Jesus, he referred to Abraham and Moses, examples of “biblical characters that have done crazy things.”
“God told me to do it,” is his central mantra.
When Tunnicliffe and others reminded Jones that by standing behind the defenses of free speech laws in the United States — aware that what he is doing may very well get others killed — rather than taking a strong stand in defense of Christ, he was acting as a coward.
Why not go to an Isalmic country and burn the Quran there? Wouldn't that be more courageous?
Jones' response only demonstrated his cowardice:“Yes, but I’d be killed.”
Tunnicliffe closed their meeting with the story of William Wilberforce, an English Member of Parliament who chose to give his life to end slavery. Paraphrasing a few lines from Amazing Grace, a recent Wilberforce bio-pic, Tunnicliffe told Jones, "When we think about heroes our minds go to people like Napoleon. Yet when his head lay on a pillow at night, he dreamt about death and violence. Mr. Wilberforce when your head lies on the pillow tonight, you will think about those you had part in freeing across the world."
Tunnicliffe then asked, “Pastor Jones, when you put your head on the pillow what kind of images do you want to see?”
May God protect all who may find themselves in harm's way because of Jones' recklessness and may that same God turn his heart away from cowardice and toward love.