It isn't as if the Middle East needed another complication. Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen -- now Terry Jones? Rev. Jones is a fringe pastor in Gainesville, Florida, who spent about 30 years as a missionary in Europe. In 1996, he took over the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville and from there enjoys re-watching Braveheart (a poster adorns his office), posing with a pistol on his hip, and giving anti-Islamic sermons. Two kids from his church were busted for wearing "Islam is of the Devil" T-shirts to school. The school just sent them home.
My frustration with this episode runs in multiple directions.
First, it drives me insane when the news media describes him as an evangelical pastor (as ABC did recently). I'm an evangelical and while we have a lot of quirky members in our ranks, I really don't think Jones is one of them. Other more thoughtful reporters helpfully call him "fringe" or "eccentric," but it doesn't help. Worse still, one report ran it all together and referred to him as "another fringe evangelical pastor."
Second, I can't imagine what was accomplished by burning a Quran. Absolutely nothing. I have many Muslim friends, and I wouldn't even think of doing something that would offend them so deeply. Nor would they do something like burning a Bible or a cross to offend me. I just don't understand people who would do something like this.
Then there is Afghanistan itself. The last count put the death toll reaction to Jones at about 20. Afghani internet readers found the then two-week-old story on the Web, spread the word, it was exploited by unscrupulous imams during their Friday sermons, and then a crazed Muslim crowd attacked U.N. workers. I don't understand these people either. The Quran burning episode parallels the Danish cartoon of Muhammad back in 2005 when almost 100 may have died. All of this activity was offensive. But why kill people unrelated to the event? Why kill anyone?
I can't imagine modern Christians or Jews being so offended about an event half-way round the world that they would rampage against Muslims like this. (Here cue the reference to the Crusades.) Perhaps my memory needs to be jogged. Or perhaps I need some of my Muslim friends to help me understand these things better.
Gary M. Burge, Ph.D., is professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. He is the author of numerous books both on the Middle East (Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to "Holy Land" Theology, and Whose Land? Whose Promise?) and the New Testament (Jesus the Middle Eastern Story Teller, The New Testament in Antiquity, and Encounters with Jesus).