There’s probably nothing new I need to add on this whole Koran burning business, but once a blog post starts forming in my head it’s hard to keep it in.

No doubt, you know by now that Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach in Gainesville, Florida is planning to burn the Muslim holy book on September 11 to protest Islam. I’m not going to take the time to provide all the links, but if you google “Koran burning” you’ll quickly discover that everybody and their brother has condemned this event and wants to see it halted: the White House, the State Department, Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder, Gen. David Petraeus, the Vatican, the National Council of Churches, and the National Association of Evangelicals. In fact, is there anyone outside of the 50 members of Dove World Outreach that think this is a good idea?

Of all the ways to voice your opposition to Muslim radicals and the Islamic religion this is about the stupidest. This is not at all like the book burning in Acts 19 where people burned their own books. As Carl Trueman points out, book burnings have a history of doing nothing but making you look like a crackpot Nazi wannabe and making your opponents look more humane and the burned books more interesting. And then there’s the fact that virtually every Christian group is calling on Jones to stop the planned burning, to say nothing of the warning issued by General Petraeus who’s not exactly a multicultural sycophant trying to appease the Islamic world. A non-stupid person would listen to these reproofs (Proverbs 12:1).

The sad irony in all this–and here’s where I pray someone will share something like this with Terry Jones–is that burning the Koran on Saturday will help Muslims more than anyone else. Dove World Outreach is not helping America and they are not helping Christianity. Think of the possible harm from this grandstanding protest:

  • American troops face stronger opposition as Muslims are energized by pictures of the Koran in flames.
  • Missionaries in Muslim lands may be put at risk. It’s one thing when international conflicts put Christians overseas in danger. That’s bad enough. What’s much worse is when the completely unnecessary actions of one pastor in Florida put them at risk.
  • News outlets give hours of coverage to one fringe pastor while the honorable deeds of thousands of churches go unnoticed. I flipped through the morning news (I use the word loosely) programs yesterday and saw that every one was doing something about the burning. There’s no reason a pastor of a 50-person church should get this kind of attention, but since he’s doing something dumb Matt Lauer will pay attention.
  • Muslims extremism is seen more and more as a product of Western aggravation. One of my big concerns is that if the Koran burning takes place and if parts of the Muslim world erupt in violence and hatred, many Americans and Europeans will say, “Well, you can hardly blame them.” No, we can still blame them. Killing people or threatening to kill people is not one of the acceptable responses to your holy book being burned. It’s like telling your little brother, “Touch me again and I’ll clobber you.” The little brother is stupid to touch him, but the older brother is still wrong to punch him. I’m afraid this will be lost on most people who will see pictures of a church burning Korans and ignore the fact that some Muslims may see this an excuse to kill.

So if anyone out there has access to Terry Jones’ email, you might want to send him a link to this post. If he can’t be persuaded by reason, Christian virtue (e..g, “love is not rude”), and an appeal to civility, maybe he can at least see that the proposed book burn is against his own aims. We’d all be much obliged if Pastor Jones decided not to shoot himself in the foot. And such a decision might just help some other people avoid getting shot in worse places.

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47 thoughts on “Burning the Koran and Shooting Yourself in the Foot”

  1. Brian K says:

    It seems to me that Terry Jones has his reward. Who ever heard of him before this?

  2. Kevin, I only wish Jones would heed your words. I am a Calvinist living in Kuwait. There is one evangelical Church here. It is on the news here on a daily basis. I have talked to several Muslims about this stupidity and the ramifications of his stubborn, arrogant, fleshly act is disconcerting, to say the least. Too bad he doesn’t follow Paul’s great example on Mars Hill or even ask himself, “What would Jesus do?” (this is a case where THAT slogan would help a lot!) God is sovereign, I can only rest in that awesome fact.

  3. John says:

    Great post. I am glad for Christian brothers who are willing to call this what it is.

  4. Hayden says:

    Kevin,

    I am a Pastor in the Gainesville area and we have tried to reach out to Terry Jones in the past and well before this news cycle picked it up. This is not his first stunt. (i.e. having kids wear ‘Islam is of the Devil’ T-shirts, protesting parades, etc.) He has been doing this for years and I belong to the Gainesville Pastor’s Association and we have tried to get him to stop these stunts. He is hardhearted and thinks that he is the only one ‘doing it right’. It is a shame, because the Dove World Outreach Center was not started by him, but it will be destroyed by his ego.

    He has heard the above arguments that you have stated but is ‘doubling down’ on his stupidity. By the way, I doubt that his membership is as high as 50, maybe it is if you count all of the kids that are from some of the large families that attend there. Do a little more searching in the Gainesville newspaper and you will see that he is a media hog.

  5. Michael says:

    And then you have those who think this would all go away quietly if everyone and their brother wasn’t talking about it. What better way to make a crazy nut into a famous crazy nut than to talk about him in the media, getting the President and a leading General in on it.

    In other, less reported news, there are books being burned by the U.S. military in Afghanistan. These books, called Bibles by Christians, are being burned because the military is concerned someone might try and convert an Afghani with them.

  6. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Hayden,

    Thanks for your insider’s perspective. Kudos to you and the other pastors for trying to deal with this. I’m sorry your efforts have not met with more success.

  7. Ginger says:

    I believe that what he is doing will not only put our military in more danger. But us christians as well… what are we going to do when someone tries to start burning our bibles.
    As far as the publicity of all of this.. I believe that is the media’s fault. No one in the Arab countries would even know about it, had the media stayed out of it. So I blame them just as much as I blame the so called Pastor. If the country really wanted him to stop, they would stop giving him his fame, that he wants so much.

  8. Leslie Jebaraj says:

    I get a sneaking suspicion that if the church does do this as planned, they might just be very badly attacked by the radical Muslims! Poor fellows!

  9. kpolo says:

    The one thing that liberals should take note in this controversy is the unanimous condemnation Jones is getting from Christians. Something never seen when Islamic terrorists commit heinous acts or when the National Endowement for Arts depicts art that is sacrilegious to Christians.

    That said, I cannot believe this guy has 50 followers. I guess 50 followers is like getting 200 on the SAT?

  10. Chase Bowers says:

    Well said!

  11. Chris Donato says:

    To further accentuate the fact that this potentially harms fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in Muslim-majority lands, it indeed ought to go without saying that “Qur’an burning [is] an unnecessary, offensive and dangerous gesture.”

  12. Doc B says:

    You said what I said on my blog, only you said it much better. And I missed the Prov 12:1 angle.

    My primary angle was the gospel…this action will not make one single Muslim somewhere in the world wonder if this Jesus person is worth investigating further. If the action doesn’t promote the gospel in some way (much less militate against it), a church shouldn’t be doing it as a publicity stunt or political point.

  13. Chris says:

    Kevin,
    I do not agree with the actions of the pastor, but I am concerned with a sort of creeping submission to standards of conduct and expression that are being dictated by non-Western ideas. We live in a free country in which we are expected to give room to one another to express our ideas. We live with uncomfortable otherness, if you will. But that is the cost of freedom.

    What is my responsibility is to allow my neighbor to say and do what he wants, and I am not free to stop him nor physically harm him if I disagree with him. If he is acting within the boundaries of the law, he can do what he wants.

    But what I am hearing in many Christian posts is that the guy might just get what is coming to him, etc. and that the Muslim world might be correct in responding with a heavy, heavy retaliation. We are being dictated to by extremists now, having to manage around the possibility of a “justified” conflagration.

    We are, as a nation, submitting to the curse of being wagged by the dog- this is the falling of a leaf, but the Secretary of State is now running to catch it. Fear has overtaken us.

    Islam is the problem, not the pastor in Florida.

  14. Chris says:

    PS- I wonder if many Christians have not given into a practical or social Barthianism- “truth is only true when it is true for you, and I cannot force my truth on you in the political realm”.

    This is pure escapism.

  15. Jeff says:

    Chris – While I agree that we live in a country that honors freedom, even the freedom to do stupid things, when we see a person who claims the name of Christ acting in such a way, should we not rebuke him? Though Paul was speaking to the Pharisees when he said “For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you'” (Romans 2:24), I think it is completely appropriate to apply that to our walk as Christians.

    By burning the Qur’an, Rev. Jones will cause the name of Christ to be blasphemed for no good reason. I have a feeling that Rev. Jones believes that if he is being persecuted, he must be doing the right thing. But Peter wrote:

    13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:13-17)

    And Rev. Jones’ situation looks absolutely nothing like that!

    So, it is our duty as Christians to rebuke him. I’m not saying he can’t do this vile thing, I’m saying he shouldn’t do it. It’s not about ability, it’s about right and wrong.

    He is building a prison of ignorance around his congregation, and Peter also writes:

    13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, [1] and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:13-19)

    Keeping your flock ignorant is sinful, and as a pastor, he should know better.

  16. Paul says:

    The Dove World Outreach Center has an email section on their website which I emailed a couple days ago with a similar message. It seems that it is down right now … http://www.doveworld.org .

    As mentioned earlier. This does not show love or glorify Christ in any way. It’s seems as though the “Main Thing” is not the main thing with this church and pastor. Truly sad.

  17. Skeeter says:

    I wonder If Islam will gain more converts by sympathizers or by demonstrating they are a peaceful religion?

  18. Chris says:

    Jeff,
    I agree with your micro assessment, but I was looking at the macro picture of living in the West, of how this stunt is being addressed on the national and international stage.

    Keep in mind that the name of Christ is already blasphemed by Islam itself, which is a Christian heresy. Having read the Koran and done both undergraduate and graduate work on Islam, the notion that it is not inherently radical is simply naive. Islam is, by its very doctrines, opposed to everything you and I hold dear- both in our faith and in our social expectations of Western living.

    Besides, in regards to the “pastor”, this is an American phenomenon of the radical independence of churches. Ever since the Kentucky revivals this kind of thing has been going on. It is part of our landscape, the sort of snake-dancing, southern charismatic, poison drinking stuff. It makes us who we are in this country. And, anyone who has decided to be a member of his so-called church has done so in freedom. You can’t stop people from being gullible. We should celebrate the freedom to be stupid, not get all hot and bothered about it. There is plenty of stupidity everywhere.

    Like I said before, Islam is the problem. Do you know the story of Salman Rushdie, or have you read the great book “Guests of the Ayatollah” by Mark Bowden? Take the time to look at the social and ethical ramifications of Islam, as it is not a religion that keeps to itself (save for certain sects). It is a social religion that demands total dominion; the doctrines of Islam do not leave any sphere of society untouched, and the mandate to conquer is permanent.

    Burning a book may be a senseless act, but to ignore the reality of Islam is even more so.

  19. Jeff says:

    Chris – Amen and Amen. Which is why the Christian community in Gainesville ought to visit Rev. Jones’ church and say “We really want to study the Qur’an to learn where it errs, but we don’t have the funds to purchase them for our studies. Instead of burning them, can we have them?”

  20. Anthony says:

    So then, Kevin, if the people burning the Quran were ex-Muslims purging their homes of wicked books, as per Acts 19, are we to assume that you would endorse such an activity? Since you are concerned to make the distinction, I’d be interested to see how the one action is permissible and the other is not.

  21. Hayden says:

    Jeff,

    Trying to talk to this guy gets you nowhere. Trust me, we have tried in the past. (I am a Pastor in Gainesville) He is like the crazy uncle that everyone avoids at the family get together :–)

  22. Doodie says:

    Granted the Pastor, Terry Jones is a loony, but this whole situation makes you think. If someone is going to burn a Koran in protest of large violent and oppressive factions of Islam………isn’t telling them not to burn a book because people will get killed kinda ridiculous? Meanwhile Christian Churches are being bombed in Iraq for being “Christian Churches“.

    http://doodiepants.com/2010/09/09/burning-the-koran-on-september-11th-911/

  23. ScottL says:

    I tried to share some stirring thoughts here that I don’t believe many have considered.

  24. Doodie says:

    Koran Burner: “I’m burning this Koran in protest of the violent and oppressive Islamic groups, governments, and attitudes the Koran has been used to support. ”

    Obama: “Don’t don that, this might cause large group Muslims to get violent and kill people.”

    Koran Burner: Um………What?

    Could someone please draw a cartoon of this? It would make a great one! -Doodiepants.com

  25. …and then there is Titus 3:1-3ff. It seems to me that Mr. Jones actions and attitudes (including his disdain for governing authorities) contradict virtually every word in what Paul writes here, and violates the fundamental “There but for the grace of God….” perspective that shapes the specifics of authentic Gospel-driven conduct and witness.

  26. Nev says:

    It’s sad that the media lumps him in as an evangelical pastor. Far from it…if you do a little digging, you’ll find that he and his church resemble more of a cult. I also find it interesting that his former ‘church’ in Germany kicked him out for bad theology, and get this, always craving for recognition!

  27. Nev says:

    So what we as Christians need to do is clear the air by sharing that he’s ‘not one of us.’ He’s not a Christian pastor…plain and simple.

  28. Chris says:

    Nev,
    He’s an American, a Westerner, and free. Let’s celebrate, and God keep us from the day when these guys get to say who can be a nut and who can’t.

    Christ, keep us free.

  29. Chris says:

    Hey Doug,
    Even officials are subject to the law, and this man broke no laws. What are you doing, angling for absolute statist power? There are a few countries where you can get this if you want it, but not here.

  30. Chris, In Titus 3 Christians are called on to “be submissive to rulers and authorities.” The President of the United States has urged him not to act in a certain way. Applying a Biblical principle like the one involved here is not merely a matter of whether or not a person ‘broke a law.’ But this is only one of many reasons that I think a passage like Titus 3:1-3ff. opposes Mr. Jones’ statements and (contemplated) actions. In the midst of authentic outreach, in which we call people to repentance and faith in Christ, we are “…to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people….”

  31. Nev says:

    Chris,
    I don’t see how your comment is relevant to what I posted. I don’t appreciate a cult leader speaking on behalf of the church…and the media has claimed him as evangelical…the world hears this. I hear and see Christians commenting about and writing letters to Terry Jones, as if he’s ‘in the faith.’ I think we need to separate from this and treat him as if he’s not part of us. So, there’s not point on pleading with him as Christian family, asking him to do as Jesus would do. What he needs is the Gospel and to be saved.

  32. Chris says:

    Doug,
    Titus 3 says that, yes, but it does not mean that we are to submit to everything those rulers and authorities suggest. As long as they speak within the law of God, then we submit, and if they tell us to do things that are against God’s law, well, there’s a problem.

    You need to spend more time thinking about civil law and the responsibility of the Christian. You are arbitrarily applying that passage. Peter disobeyed the rulers to do what was right. Paul did too. In fact, every single Christian did in the first century, because the Roman law said that there was no other god but Caesar. Were they breaking Titus 3? Nope.

    Nev,
    This is America, there are so many nuts out there, you shouldn’t get too worried about one. American evangelicals are nutty generally, big deal. You could spend your lifetime worrying about others who might give you a bad name, but you should really just worry about your own life- logs and such.

  33. Chris, I think your first paragraph established exactly the point I was making. And it is perhaps telling that you didn’t reply to any of the rest of the verse from Titus 3 that I presented. I think I’ve made my case, so unless a new thought or substantial argument is introduced, I’ll leave it at that.

  34. Betty says:

    I agree that if he is wanting to get at the heart of Islam, just read the Koran publicly-while he has the world’s attention. Tried to call but lines were busy.

    Also, would it not make more of a statement for Christians to burn their own wicked “books” in their possesions (witchcraft, porn, etc) in a public ceremony? Or at least stand up and preach the Gospel publicly to a lost world, which includes Muslims?

  35. nancy says:

    When Jesus comes back to rule and reign on earth, there will not be one Koran in existence! Don’t be afraid to take a stand against evil. Jesus was not when he was on earth. Caving in to the demands of murders and liars just paves their way into hell. Sometimes love must be tough. Mohammad and his book have decieved so many millions of people throughout history that it is totally appropriate to hate this book just as you are called to hate Satan.

  36. Bonnie says:

    Anthony makes a good point. If it were a congregation of 50 converted Muslims burning the book would there be support from Christians? And would burning the books be more tolerated since it would be an act to symbolize their complete submission to Jesus Christ? Would Islamic groups still be enraged? The answer to the latter is ‘yes’. The thing is, though, no one would hear of it because no one in our government nor the media (nor Christian churches) would give any thought to it. One crazy preacher is so much more newsworthy than would be 50 people coming to Christ.

    And, as so many others have said, there is the element of religious freedom. If this proposed action is condemned and stopped how long will it be until I am forced by our government to stop homeschooling my children because the law considers my teaching them that Jesus Christ is the only way to God a ‘hate crime’ against Muslims?

  37. Lee DeYoung says:

    I appreciate Kevin’s post and the many insightful comments here. I hope that the pastor in question sticks to his pledge to call this thing off!

    I am presently hosting in my home an indigenous denominational leader from a country which is more than 95% Muslim. He has read some of Jones’ published rationale for this and resonates with his negative view of the Quran. He observes that many believers throughout the world seemed so intimidated by the threat of Islam that they cower too much in silence. Islam’s status as a false religion should be confronted more than it is by Christians. He says, “Christians sometimes seem to be so imprisoned by fear of Islam that they fail to say what needs to be said about it. Yet, at the same time, my guest firmly believes that publicly burning the Quran does not seem to be an effective strategy and should be avoided. He notes that it’s well documented that Muslims in some parts of the world have been known to purchase every Bible they can find in order to keep them off the bookshelves and therefore inaccessible to seekers and believers alike. In a way, that’s a low-profile Islamic variant of the Jones “in your face” strategy of defiant provocation.

    For a confessing Christian to publicly burn the Quran is a counter-productive stunt. It seems inevitable that Bible-burnings will ensue in many Islamic regions. And, yes, the provocation is so offensive that it is apt to trigger a violent backlash among some militants. But even more worrisome is the likelihood that such a step would deeply offend and alienate many Muslims who might otherwise be earnestly open to the gospel.

    I resonate with the references here to Paul at Mars Hill. He was deeply disturbed by the offensive idols which were pervasive in ancient Athens. I am certain that he felt revulsion at the sight of them but yet examined enough of them to discover the one devoted to an unknown God. Instead of angrily denouncing the folly of idolatry, his public response to the Athenians was winsome and carefully considered. If he had cried out against the evils and futility of idol worship he would have been justified. But that would have been a less effective method than the one Paul chose to pursue.

    There is a time to take a stand and clearly proclaim the truth. But the spectacle Jones envisions seems certain to alienate and will be unconvincing. He might be sincere. A yearning for the spotlight could also be a motivating factor (perhaps even the dominant one). But in any case, I do not believe that he is properly attuned to the leading of the Spirit.

    The Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan has issued an excellent statement on this: http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1525289.html

  38. Joanna Hoyt says:

    I agree strongly with your objection to the burning of Qur’ans. I disagree, though, with your statement that such an action would ‘help Muslims”. There are a lot of Muslims working for respect, understanding and peace between religions, and this kind of offensive act is as harmful to them as it is to us Christians who are engaged in the same work. Offensive acts against Christians might ‘help ‘ those few Christians who wish to stir up hatred against other religions, but they don;t help Christianity.

    I’ve recently started reading the Qur’an and am struck by its many reverent references to Jesus. I don;t see how anyone could red it amd fail to see that Muslims and Christians are following the same God–the God of Abraham, of Moses, of Jesus–, though we have some major disagreements about the interpretation of God’s will.

  39. Jason says:

    Joanna,
    A simple comparison reveals that the God of Islam bears only superficial resemblance to the God of Christianity.

    The Jesus of Islam:
    -was merely a created human, like Abramham and Mohammed (Surah
    3:59)
    -is one of many prophets, and not the divine Son of God. (Surah 2.136, 2.84)
    -was never crucified and then resurrected (al-Nisaa’ 4:157-158)
    -cannot be worshipped (Surah al-Maa’idah 5:116)

    You may wish to reconsider your statement that “Muslims and Christians are folowing the same God.”

  40. Joanna Hoyt says:

    Fair enough; they don’t see Jesus in the same way. But Allah is clearly God the Father, Yahweh, or whatever name you prefer.

  41. Doodie says:

    Well, Allah has quite a different character as well. Just because the Prophet went back and said that all the previous Judaic prophets were actually Muslims doesn’t mean it’s true either.

    Also, The Qur’an wasn’t even written until around 20-30 years after he died and it was composed from what was memorized and written down on palm leaves. No room for corruption there…..none at all. He did not even write the Qur’an. The Hadiths verify this.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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