Double Take

Two things have happened this week that I never saw coming.

The first (as I’m sure you’ve heard) is that a Florida pastor plans to spend this Saturday, September 11, burning Qur’ans at his church in Gainesville.  We were about due for another school board ban on an evolution-promoting science textbook or a library pulling a children’s story featuring a magician. But a book burning? I can’t recall one of those in recent memory– probably because 1933 wasn’t all that recent.

The second is that Glenn Beck and I have agreed on something.  In a Labor Day post on “The Blaze”, Mr. Beck commented on Pastor Terry Jones’ Qur’an burning plans this way: We must be the better person.  We must be bigger than our problems.  Bigger than the times in which we live.  Burning the Koran is like burning the flag or the Bible.  You can do it, but whose heart will you change by doing it?   You will only harden the hearts of those who could be moved.   None of those who are thinking about killing us will be affected, but our good Muslim friends and neighbors will be saddened. It makes the battle that they face inside their own communities even harder. Let us rise above the current levels and elevate ourselves and our country.   The only thing this act would prove is that you CAN burn a Koran.   I didn’t know America was in doubt on that fact.   Let’s prove to each other that while there are many things we can do, there are maybe many more things that we choose not to do.

Well said!  (Though I feel obligated to point out, Mr. Beck, that book burning is something the Nazis were really into and you somehow failed to mention that in this instance.)

I draw at least two lessons from this unlikely convergence of events.  One is to never say never. No matter how much we think we’ve seen or heard, the darnedest things still can and do happen. The other is that, despite our supposed loathing of partisanship, it is still much more profitable in America to provoke conflict than to promote dialogue and understanding.

Regardless of what actually happens in Gainesville on Saturday, this fringe pastor has garnered all the attention and publicity a person could ever hope to have, and in the process has duped the media into fanning the flames of right-wing zealotry before anyone at his church strikes a single match.

Through a blitz of blog postings, third-party commentaries, interviews, and now press conferences, Pastor Jones has succeeded in reinforcing (for everyone who wants to believe it) the myth that all Muslims are terrorists-in-waiting

His official position is that the Qur’an bonfire is intended solely as a warning to radical Islam on the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks. Yet, his website (promoting his book of the same name) is titled simply “Islam is of the Devil.”  The site features “Ten Reasons to Burn the Koran” (recently expanded to fifteen), all of which boil down to three main points: (a) the Qur’an ain’t the Bible, (b) Muslims ain’t Christians, and (c) therefore everyone associated with the Islam is, by default, against America and democracy. And “Islam is of the Devil” is buzzing with activity in the wake of Pastor Jones’ heightened media profile.  In addition, the Facebook page linked with the website now has well over 11,000 “fans” and the vitriol expressed on the page’s wall is both nauseating and frightening.

Perhaps saddest of all, however,  is that after Pastor Jones burns (or, hopefully, doesn’t  burn) his collection of Qur’ans, odds are that few on either the left or the right will remember Glenn Beck’s eloquent statement speaking against this sort of bigoted grandstanding. Even now Mr. Beck’s comments are not receiving the kind of attention one would hope. I had to go digging for them.  No doubt Mr. Beck will also notice that not many have noticed, and he’ll be right back to slapping swastikas and hammers and sickles on things left and right (though mainly left) in the next news cycle. And so, despite all the condemnations of Pastor Jones by generals, clergy, celebrities, dignitaries, cabinet members, and members of Congress, little for the cause of freedom and respect will be gained.

I hope I’m wrong about that.  My prayer is that the prejudiced frenzy stirred up by Pastor Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center will lead those of us striving to live faithfully in the way of Jesus to recommit ourselves to living intentionally as instruments of God’s love, grace, and mercy in this world.  We should remember Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (NRSV).  We just shouldn’t expect to be called by the press as we go about our ministry of reconciliation. Bonfires make for better television.

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