What first caught my attention last month about the notorious plan to burn the Quran on September 11 was that it would happen in my old stomping grounds of Gainesville, Florida. I spent a quarter of my life in Gainesville: four years as a student at the University of Florida and three more as a staff member of Campus Crusade for Christ. In those years, Gainesville residents mostly burned couches on the streets after winning national championships in basketball and football. The news devastated me in large part because it was happening so close to home and heart.
In less than a month this horrendous event has gained enough momentum to reach an international audience, capped with a statement by General David Petraeus. The commander of American troops in Afghanistan criticized the burning, saying, “It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan.” Even the Vatican newspaper condemned the burning. The Dove World Outreach Center, with 50 people led by Pastor Terry Jones, has caused a backlash throughout the world that includes the general speaking on behalf of 120,000 troops in the Middle East and the largest church in the world.
Since this news first came to my attention, I have had to think and pray through a response to the burning. This story has already been covered from countless angles. Carl Trueman calls it “childish.” Tweets abound, some of which attempt to find humor in the situation. So what do I have to add?
One of my closest friends, Jimmy, is the director of Campus Crusade for Christ at UF. By the grace of God, more than 1,000 students attend their weekly meetings. They are the largest student organization on campus and one of the largest in the city of Gainesville. This all means they have considerable influence as an organization with his words being loudest. After learning of the Quran burning, Jimmy was invited to speak at a protest organized by a group gathering together organizations of various religions around Gainesville. This is where he asked me for advice on what to do, because he is rightfully opposed to the burning. At the same time, he does not think protesting is the answer. However, if he does not lock arm in arm with the other Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc., will he be viewed as being in favor of the burning? What will the hundreds of students involved in Campus Crusade think? What will the 50,000 students at UF think? He can’t stay silent on this, so what’s the response?
Here is what I shared with him:
It seems to me that the best road for a gospel-saturated Christian to take is not standing on the one side of the road with all-exclusive hate or on the other side with all-inclusive love. Both are ultimately extremes that do not address the heart of the issue. The middle road seems to be the only-exclusive love that Christ offers through the Cross, which rejects hating enemies (Matt. 5:43-44) and loving the world (1 John 2:15-17) while embracing love of enemies and hating sin. The response we must have as Christians is to reject the utter hatred of people like Pastor Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center, while at the same time not making the mistake of being purely reactionary by standing on the other side of the road, united only in protest, not in love.
He is the one who will have to live out this calling all the more in Gainesville after this weekend is over. Please pray that the influence of Campus Crusade and all the solid churches in Gainesville does not get squelched due to this terribly sad showcase.
Finally, I am saddened that a church of 50 people will not only destroy the Quran but also damage the credibility of all the churches out there that go unheard for all the good they do in the name of Christ. Though I should not be, I am astonished that a 50-person church has gained more attention than any 5,000-person church could by living out the gospel every day. Christ’s blood shed on the Cross in Jerusalem is eternally scandalous news that is overshadowed today by the scandalous news of Qurans burned by 50 people in Gainesville.
I pray that the Gainesville I’ve come to love will stay away from burning the Quran and get back to burning couches.