NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A Florida pastor’s plan to hold a large-scale burning of the Quran is “appalling” and does not represent the teachings of Christ, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land says.
The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission made the comments Sept. 7 in reference to a Florida pastor’s plans to hold “International Burn a Koran Day” Sept. 11, the ninth anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The pastor, Terry Jones, leads Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., a nondenominational church that reportedly runs approximately 30-50 people each Sunday.
Jones said the event — which has garnered worldwide attention and already led to at least one large overseas protest — is an “act of warning radical Islam.”
“The behavior of this church is not Christian,” Land said during an online chat on The Washington Post’s website. “I cannot imagine Christ burning any religious texts. This behavior is unfortunately one of the prices we pay for living in a free society with freedom of speech and freedom of expression, even when it is odious and reprehensible. I believe it is incumbent upon Christians across the country to denounce this action by this local church and its pastor to make it as clear as possible that they do not speak for any sizable portion of the Christian faith community in any way, shape or form.”
Land previously said the church’s planed actions are “appalling, disgusting and brainless” and that they “besmirch the reputation of our Savior, and that makes it blasphemy.”
The planned Quran burning has sparked a worldwide controversy, and hundreds of Muslims gathered in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 6 to burn a cardboard image of Jones in effigy while chanting, “Long live Islam” and “Death to America,” according to the Associated Press. Although most Americans may ignore the pastor, the rest of the world won’t, warned Gen. David Petraus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
“It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan,” Petraus said in a statement.
Land agreed, saying there are “elements within Islam which will react violently.”
“This would feed a cycle of violence in which acts by Muslim extremists would become self-fulfilling prophecies,” he said.
Open Doors USA President Carl Moeller also condemned the planned event, saying it “violates the command of Jesus to love our neighbor” and “would likely cause Christians worldwide to be more vilified and persecuted.” Open Doors supports the persecuted church worldwide.
“The burning of Qurans will only confirm what many Muslims believe — that Christians hate Muslims,” Moeller said in a statement. “That is exactly the opposite message we as Christians want to send.”
Land and Moeller said they are praying Jones will change his mind and cancel the event.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the church’s plan a “disrespectful, disgraceful act,” and Attorney General Eric Holder called it “idiotic and dangerous.”
Land, though, said the government should stay out of the way.
“The only thing more dangerous than what this pastor is doing would be to allow the government to interfere,” he said. “This would set a terrible precedent and would diminish all our First Amendment rights. The best way to combat this is to exercise our free speech right to condemn what he is doing in the simplest way and most direct terms.”
Jones and his church are not strangers to controversy. He has written a book, “Islam is of the Devil,” a phrase that is written on a series of signs on church property for passersby to see. The church’s website also lists 15 reasons to “burn a Koran.”
Jones appeared on CBS’ “The Early Show” Sept. 8 and agreed that Jesus said to “love your enemies.”
“I believe that this approach is not the normal approach,” Jones said. “But I believe that this approach is at this particular time in history very necessary. We also see times in the Bible where Jesus also got very upset. Jesus went into the temple and threw all the money changers out.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.