MAYFIELD, Ky. (BP)–Certainly Pastor Terry Jones and the Dove World Outreach Church possess the civil right as Americans to burn copies of the Quran. Nevertheless, it is my hope that Pastor Jones and the members of the church will instead choose the path of civil responsibility and refrain from their plans. Simply stated, this proposed action will do more harm than good.
General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, has already stated that burning the Qurans will potentially endanger U.S. and Western troops in that country. Additionally, U.S. and Western diplomats, aid workers, missionaries, and even Christian believers in Muslim countries could be placed in harm’s way. The actions of Pastor Jones and his church would be interpreted as representing the feelings of all Americans toward Islam and its sacred scriptures. Violence would be a real possibility.
By the middle of the 20th century, the burning of books of any type had come to be seen by many people worldwide as a malevolent activity. Now in all honesty, the historic Christian community both has been the object of “book burnings,” as well as the perpetrators of this activity (for instance, see Acts 19:18-19 where new Christians burned their own books that promoted sorcery). In addition to Muslims, many non-Christians as well as Christian believers will be appalled that representatives of the Christian community participated in an activity that has historically been linked to brutal dictators and oppressive regimes.
Author Heinrich Heine once wrote, “Where they burn books, so too they will burn human beings.” His words became strangely prophetic when his own works and those of others were burned by the Nazis in the 1930s as a prelude to the Holocaust. Since that time a book burning sponsored by any community is associated with the book burnings promoted by the Nazis. Book burnings are now too toxic to be considered anything but a bad testimony for any community — let alone our own Christian community.
Finally, the burning of copies of the Quran will do irreparable harm to our outreach to American and overseas Muslims. Muslim peoples worldwide will associate the burning of the Quran with all evangelical Christians, and our door for outreach to that community will be harder to open. Christians already have difficulty in presenting the Gospel to Muslims, and this activity will only widen that gap instead of bridging it.
Ironically, my own library contains the Quran in English. It was given to me by an American Muslim in the 1970s after we had exchanged long conversations with each of us witnessing for our respective faiths (he already possessed a New Testament). In my other discussions with Muslims since then I have drawn on the knowledge of Islam that I gleaned from reading the Quran. For instance, as I witness to Muslims I can point out that both of our traditions regard Jesus (“Isa” in the Islamic tradition) as a great prophet. Although Islamic teachings do not ascribe deity to Christ, the Quran as a whole treats Him with great respect and I have found this to be a valuable witnessing tool.
I also discovered this to be true when I went to the Middle East and talked to Muslims throughout the region. They respected that I had actually read the Quran and could discuss Christ in the context of how Muslims understood Him to be. Admittedly, I was unable to lead any of them to Christ at the time of my discussions with them, but I remain hopeful that I may have “planted a seed” for other Christian witnesses to water.
I pray that Pastor Jones and his congregation will not follow through with their plans. As we witness to Muslims in the future, I hope that we will not have the baggage of a Gainesville “Quran-burning” as a barrier to our efforts. As evangelical Christians who want to evangelize, we should be building bridges to the Islamic world, not erecting spiritual barriers. While I certainly share Pastor Jones’ concerns that Muslim societies have not done enough to curb the anti-Christian activities of radical jihadists, I see no good reason to further encourage them by this activity. This planned book burning will only do harm and will produce no identifiable good.
Dr. Stephen Douglas Wilson is the vice-president for academic affairs at Mid-Continent University and teaches Middle Eastern History. He is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.