MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–Burning copies of the Quran would endanger Christians in other countries and also make it more difficult to share the Gospel with Muslims, a Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary professor said after the pastor of a small Florida church called off a highly publicized Quran-burning event.
The pastor, Terry Jones of the nondenominational Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., said Sept. 10 he had cancelled “International Burn a Koran Day,” and the next day he went a step further and said his church would never hold such an event, “not today, not ever.” His previous plans to burn copies of the Quran on Sept. 11 had sparked an international controversy and had led to protests in some Muslim countries.
Although there were a handful of incidents in the U.S. on Sept. 11 where copycats either tore pages out of the Quran or burned it using lighter fluid, none of them drew significant attention.
Jones’ church runs about 30-50 people on a Sunday mornings.
Eddie Pate, a missions professor at Golden Gate Seminary and a former mission worker in North Africa and the Middle East, said such incidents only do harm to Christianity.
“In our attempts to share the Gospel and model what it means to be a follower of Jesus to Muslims in America and around the world, seeking ways to offend them, such as burning the Quran, do not help that effort,” Pate, the seminary’s director of the Kim School of Global Missions, told Baptist Press in an e-mail. “Provocative comments on Islam and actions toward Muslims (even by well-intentioned pastors and leaders) not only affect the ministry of Christian workers overseas but also may physically endanger fragile communities of Christians living in majority Muslim countries.”
Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright made similar comments Sept. 10, saying in a statement directed at Jones, “Your proposed actions do not encourage people of the world to respect your faith.”
Jones told NBC’s “Today” show Sept. 11 he felt “God is telling us to stop.”
“Whenever we started this out, one of our reasons was to show, to expose, that there is an element of Islam that is very dangerous and very radical,” he said. “I think we have definitely accomplished that mission. Even though we have not burned one Quran, we have gotten over 100 death threats. We see what is going on around in the whole world, even if we do it.”
Two people were killed and four injured in Afghanistan Sept. 12 during protests directed at Jones, CNN reported. The previous week, hundreds rallied in Indonesia and Afghanistan against the scheduled burning.
The planned burning led to calls from across the ideological and political spectrum for Jones to stop, including from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the church’s scheduled burning “appalling,” while Open Doors USA President Carl Moeller said it “would likely cause Christians worldwide to be more vilified and persecuted.” Open Doors supports the persecuted church worldwide.
Pate, the Golden Gate Seminary professor, said he has seen firsthand the pressures the Christian church faces in Jordan and in the Gaza Strip.
“Seeking to communicate the Gospel in Gaza was hard enough, [but] having to explain and interpret statements by leaders of the church in the West about Islam added to the pressure upon them,” Pate said. “I’ve found that most Muslims like to and will engage in conversations about the nature of Scripture and the Quran, Jesus and Muhammad, etc. We ought to engage them in this conversation here in America and around the world…. Intentionally offending Muslims does not help us get to that conversation.”
Wright, the SBC president and the pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., said that while he believes Christians are wrong to burn Qurans, he disagrees with Muslim beliefs.
“What Islam and the Quran teach about Jesus is very different from what the Bible teaches about Jesus,” Wright said in a statement. “The Bible records that Jesus is the Son of God. He said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through me.’ In other words, Jesus is the only way to God and heaven…. Islam and the Quran teach that Jesus was a prophet, a man, not the son of God, and that only Allah is God in Islam. Islam also teaches that Jesus never died on the cross or rose from the dead — the essential core beliefs of Christianity.
“Both claims about Jesus cannot be true,” Wright said. “They can both be false, or one claim can be true and one claim false. But no one can intelligently say both claims about Jesus are true. That is totally illogical. Followers of Jesus as the crucified, resurrected, Son of God believe the claims of Scripture are true and the claims of Islam about Jesus are false. Yet we respect Muslims’ rights to disagree.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.