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Two Extremes?

posted by Scot McKnight

From NYTimes: Do you think these are two extreme reactions or do you think these are closer to the mainline? Are these two “incidents” connected? 

What can we, as those who seek to follow Jesus and to embody the kingdom, do?

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — If building an Islamic center near ground zero amounts to the epitome of Muslim insensitivity, as critics of the project have claimed, what should the world make of Terry Jones, the evangelical pastor here who plans to memorialize the Sept. 11 attacks with a bonfire of Korans?

Mr. Jones, 58, a former hotel manager with a red face and a white handlebar mustache, argues that as an American Christian he has a right to burn Islam’s sacred book because “it’s full of lies.” And in another era, he might have been easily ignored, as he was last year when he posted a sign at his church declaring “Islam is of the devil.”

But now the global spotlight has shifted. With the debate in New York putting religious tensions front and center, Mr. Jones has suddenly attracted thousands of fans and critics on Facebook, while around the world he is being presented as a symbol of American anti-Islamic sentiment.



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nathan

posted August 27, 2010 at 9:22 am


I think our reaction needs to be one of public grief and sadness, while clearly distancing ourselves from the book burning.



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Robin

posted August 27, 2010 at 9:27 am


What is the 2nd incident? I get that the first is the guy planning to burn the korans, but I don’t see the second? Did I miss a framing post?
As far as what to do, I’m reminded of a post on Andrew Sullivan’s blog in the past few days about a baptist that wears (sells) shirts apologizing to the gay community for their mistreatment, works to get them equal rights, yet maintains his beliefs in the sinfulness of homosexual acts. Maybe something like that, shirts or advertisements proactively demonstrating love for Muslims, even if we still believe they need to find Jesus (In the Billy Graham sense).



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Puzzlement

posted August 27, 2010 at 9:37 am


I think you let an American citizen who has the legal right to build something, build it. You don’t change the hearts and minds of people by demanding that people be sensitive to your sensibilities, if you have some resentment towards the Islamic faith because of the murders Islamic extremists committed on 9/11. Christians, of all people, ought to be loving their enemies. Love, in this context, is nothing more than letting an American citizen do what American citizens get to do. It’s amazing how this is even an issue.



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Keith

posted August 27, 2010 at 9:48 am


I believe this controversy comes down to the fact that most American Christians are more American and less Christian. It’s easy to get patriotism and faithfulness confused in our American culture. It’s time to adjust our priorities in favor of godliness. God does not demand we conform to his will; he lets us choose.



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Stacey Douglas

posted August 27, 2010 at 10:38 am


It’s amazing to me that we can’t seem to obey Jesus’ essential commands to love – God, our neighbors, our enemies. Dissenting from other worldviews, and religious and ideological beliefs, is our responsibility as disciples of Jesus Christ and faithful adherents to the revealed Word of God in the Bible, true. Hating and castigating others in the process is not – unless we are intent on shutting down avenues of commuincation and witness. When those who do not follow Jesus look at us do they see lovers of the Word and people? or not? The confusion of “Christian” with any nation (as in “American Christian”) and its freedoms blights our thought processes, lifestyles, and witness raising our love for country to the same level as our love for Lord which shames our Christian families from other cultures, nations, countries. Love God – Love one another – Love your neighbor – Love and pray for your enemy. And let us remember: such were some of us.



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Robin

posted August 27, 2010 at 11:00 am


I’m a little surprised by the responses that indicate this is about lack of love, or being more American than Christian. When I look at the bible, yes, I see a Jesus who loved everyone, even sinners, but not necessarily a Jesus or any part of the trinity that made nice with false gods as some kind of golden rule.
When Jesus encountered idolatry in his father’s house he drove out the money changers with a whip, and how many times in the OT do we read about God commanding leaders to tear down the Ashteroth and other forms of idol worship.
I’m not convinced that burning Korans or preventing a Mosque from being built is necessarily an ‘un-christian’ thing to do; the only thing I can think of immediately are Paul’s statements that he becomes all things to all men for the sake of the gospel. I think there is a good case that doing these things hinders the advance of the gospel, but there isn’t a really good case that it, de facto, exhibits a lack of love.
Can someone point me to texts where Jesus says that loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you is exhibited by supporting people’s rights to worship false Gods. Make the case based on Paul, not mixing our first amendment values with Jesus words and pretending they are somehow equivalent.



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Robin

posted August 27, 2010 at 11:08 am


Thinking about this as an American/Christian conroversy, we could also bring church history into play. St. Boniface’s and St. Patrick’s early missionary work both included demolishing pagan worship centers to prove that the pagan gods had no power compared to Jehovah. They both did so in opposition to the wishes of the people they were evangelizing, and they both did so at the risk of their own lives.
This is in stark contrast to the religious pluralism and toleration we (rightly) celebrate in modern day America. So I think the assertion that burning Korans is somehow more American than Christian is severely misguided. It is more ancient Christian than modern Christian, and maybe ‘incorrectly conceived’ Christian, but it is certainly not an evidence of Americana.



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kevin s.

posted August 27, 2010 at 11:38 am


@Robin
To my knowledge, the guy hasn’t organized any burning of, for example, the book of Mormon. If he felt called to burn religious books as symbols of idolatry, then that call would at least extend to those of all the major religions.
Selecting one idol among many certainly seems unloving.
This is, of course, setting aside the efficacy of such an act in terms of promoting the gospel.



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ben

posted August 27, 2010 at 11:42 am


@Robin
You acknowledge that these acts are pushing people away, the very people we should draw close to in order to show them the love of Christ. It’s pretty difficult to show them the love of Christ when you’re burning their stuff or telling them that they’re not wanted here. I would say that if you’re pushing them away and making them into an enemy, then it is an issue of lack of love.



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Robert A

posted August 27, 2010 at 12:31 pm


I haven’t seen a reasonable Christian leader who hasn’t voraciously disagreed with the schedule Koran burning service.
I haven’t met a Christian who agrees with it. From everything I’m reading, seeing, hearing, etc there is almost no one except that small group of maligned zealots who think this is a Christ-honoring idea.
Yet from the Muslims I haven’t seen anyone say that building the mosque in lower Manhattan is a bad idea. I haven’t seen any Muslim leader say this should be stopped. (Of course I could be wrong on both of these accounts.)
There are unreasonable Christians everywhere, this is the obvious truth. Outside of stating that we disagree with the idea what else can we do?



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drwayman

posted August 27, 2010 at 1:10 pm


How would Planned Parenthood react if Christians decided to build a church on the same site where the Kansas abortionist was murdered? Which side would the media take?



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JM

posted August 27, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Robin

posted August 27, 2010 at 1:45 pm


Your name, Kevin, Ben,
My point isn’t that he isn’t an extremist, it is that you have charged him with a specific sin against God (failing to love your enemies) when I don’t see, biblically, how he has committed that specific sin.
Biblical love requires lots of things. It requires considering one another greater than ourselves, it require feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the widow and orphan, etc. I cannot find where it requires supporting the erection of pagan houses of worship or prohibits the destruction of pagan religious texts.
Furthermore, I can find lots of places in scripture where God commands the destruction of pagan houses of worship, where he is pleased with his people because they destroy them, and where he curses Israel’s leaders because they fail to destroy them.
Now, not supporting Mosque construction or burning Korans might be evidence to you that he doesn’t love Muslims because you have a pluralistic, tolerant, American mindset. But in order to accuse this guy publicly of sinning against Jehovah because he doesn’t love Muslims, then I need some further biblical evidence.
Either show where scripture describes his specific actions as sin, charge him with a different sin, or admit that there might not be evidence of sinfulness in his actions, just a lack of wisdom and understanding.



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Noreligion

posted August 27, 2010 at 2:11 pm


Extremists on either end of the spectrum are dangerous, whether they are Muslim or pseudo Christians, period. More people have been killed in the name of some god or another than for any other reason. Every religion believes “their” god is the “the” god, so figure it out, someone is wasting their time, could it be ALL of them? Yes!
-I don’t know, and you don’t either!



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Daniel

posted August 27, 2010 at 2:14 pm


@Robert A (#10): For the record, there have been some Muslims questioning the wisdom of building that mosque. Some examples are Tarek Fatah (http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Mischief+Manhattan/3370303/story.html) and Irshad Manji (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703632304575451433090488678.html?mod=WSJ_newsreel_opinion). Granted these individuals are extremely more liberal than mainstream Muslims, but such views are out there.



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Robin

posted August 27, 2010 at 2:19 pm


Noreligion,
technically, more people have been killed in the name of communism than all religions combined, but I get your larger point



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Jeremy

posted August 27, 2010 at 2:26 pm


Actually, more people have been killed in the last 100 years for purely secular reasons than all the religious murders of the millenia before it.
Anyway, I think the problem here is what IS love exactly? Some think that disrespect, derision and a complete lack of interest in building bridges rather than burning them to the ground qualifies as love. I personally do not. A missionary friend of mine in India once observed that if he didn’t respect their religion and right to believe how they chose, then they had no reason to respect his, thus ending any hope he had of reaching them. Love does not include spitting in someone’s face, which is what this is.
All the quibbling about whether or not the Bible says we should be nice to believers of false gods aside, it says we should test any action by its fruit, and I think this one will fail that biblically directed test utterly.
That said, I agree with the opening part of Robert’s statement in that this doesn’t even remotely apply to a majority of Christianity. On the other hand, my reply to his last bit and drwayman is “so what?” There is plenty of biblical directive about being the least bit concerned what others do. God really isn’t going to care when he’s asking you about what you did.



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Anderson

posted August 27, 2010 at 2:36 pm


How would Planned Parenthood react if Christians decided to build a church on the same site where the Kansas abortionist was murdered?

George Tiller, the “Kansas abortionist,” was murdered in a church while serving as an usher during a worship service. So that analogy doesn’t really work.



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Daniel

posted August 27, 2010 at 2:42 pm


@Robin (#6,#7): I think you raise an interesting point about the destruction of pagan shrines and artifacts in the Old Testament and in Church history. I’d also add the examples of the Ephesians burning their magic scrolls and the iconoclasms of the protestant reformation and certain periods of the Eastern Orthodox church. However, let me suggest that burning the Qur’an here is not a perfect parallel; there are some crucial differences.
First of all, Muslims are not exactly pagan. Islam is more like a cult with distorted doctrine (started by a claimed prophet who ostensibly builds on the foundation of the scriptures but in practice supersedes them with his own teachings) than it is a pagan religion (although it does have some pagan elements in it, in my opinion, such as the black rock in Mecca).
Secondly, and more importantly, the Biblical events of trashing idolatrous sites and artifacts were in the context of personal or communal repentance. Gideon tore down the Asherah pole of his own hamlet–and was there the next morning to face the fallout. The Ephesians burned their own magic scrolls. If this were a group of former Muslims who decided that burning the Qur’an was a symbolic way of renouncing the lies Muhammed taught, I’d cheer them on. But it is a group of Americans who are quite insulated from the blowback from their actions. In the current context, they are attacking the other rather than removing idolatry from their own community.



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MattR

posted August 27, 2010 at 2:46 pm


I don’t see this ‘pastor’s’ actions as mainstream… I think this, and there might be a few recent examples from both more conservative and progressive sides, is the fringe.
However, I think something bigger is going on…
In the last year or so especially, I have seen the rhetoric heat up; promoting fear, conspiracies, etc.
I have a hunch we are coming towards some sort of cultural moment.
Will hate and fear be the loudest voice?!
And how will Christians, in the US, and in the West in general, respond? In other words, will we let people who have an alternate agenda (getting out votes, raising money, getting us to watch/listen, etc.) sway us into joining the loud fringe voices?!
For me, we need to come to terms, as a church, that WE are not in charge of people… we used to have a narrative that this was a ‘Christian nation,’ so our values should be the wider cultural values, our religion should be the dominant religion, etc… I don’t believe that was ever true, but for sure it is no longer. And our job is not to fight for cultural dominance. Instead we persuade people as Christians have always been called to… faithfulness and sacrificially loving our neighbors.



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drwayman

posted August 27, 2010 at 3:08 pm


Anderson – oops! Sorry, my bad. I forgot he was an usher. I sit corrected.



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Puzzlement

posted August 27, 2010 at 3:52 pm


Robin: I don’t see it so much as an issue of love (though it could be construed either way) as a matter of indifference for a Christian. I don’t think the primary task of the church is to change the world one way or the other so much as be faithful followers of Christ in a world that doesn’t believe God exists. That Christians are upset suggests to me that they’ve taken their focus off their primary task and are reinforcing the deservedly negative stereotype many Christians have. Rallies against other religions just isn’t part of life in the Kingdom so far as I can tell.
When Glenn Beck dishonors the Lincoln Memorial tomorrow, he’ll have the perfect right as an American to do it. I suppose some lefties could protest but why would they. He’s doing exactly what the Burlington Coat Factory Mosque is doing. And in any event, the values he espouses are not distinctly Christian values. I don’t expect him to say anything about loving your enemies, praying for those who persecute you, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile. He’ll hammer the bedrock American values that Christians have confused with being faithful and godly. It’s ironic, really, that Beck is exercising the precise right he wishes to deny a fellow American on the grounds that THAT KIND of American constrain the exercise of his right because HIS faith. Bizarre.



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Puzzlement

posted August 27, 2010 at 3:56 pm


Oops. Last sentence should read: “It’s ironic, really, that Beck is exercising a similar right that he wishes to deny a fellow American on the grounds that THAT KIND of American should constrain the exercise of his rights because he is Muslim.”
We think we control history. We ought rather to be faithful and trust that God will work out his purposes in his good time.



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kevin s.

posted August 27, 2010 at 4:07 pm


@MattR
I don’t know that the rhetoric is heating up per se. The Vietnam era was certainly rife with heated rhetoric and conspiracy theories. I’m not sure conspiracy theories would hold nearly so much weight had it not been for Nixon engaging in, um, conspiracies.
Ronald Reagan was viewed by large swaths of the population as a mentally challenged person who might, at any moment, push the little red button and kill us all. There was, suffices to say, plenty of heated rhetoric back then.
In the early nineties, there was a lot of heated rhetoric aimed at Christians. Anyone who watched as much MTV as I did back then knows this was certainly true. Hillary Clinton, no fringe figure, compared home schooling to child abuse.
After the 2000 election, which essentially ended in a tie, one side felt particularly disenfranchised. Many on the left felt Bush either perpetrated, or intentionally allowed the 9/11 attacks. Others thought he was the next Hitler. Christians, meanwhile, returned the favor from the early nineties with angry rhetoric aimed at liberals.
Christians burned books and hippies burned flags throughout.
This is just more of the same, and this too shall pass. Elections are more cathartic than people give them credit for, and federal gridlock has a way of cooling emotions among the populace, as it should.



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MattR

posted August 27, 2010 at 5:11 pm


@Kevin S.,
Good examples from previous days…
And I agree, there are often cycles, and things balance out.
However, for me what seems different, and seems so on a larger/cultural level, is the amount of exposure such things get… ie: new tech/media/24 hour news cycle. This, to me, gives such things a power that feels different.
Ideas, voices and events are magnified. The ‘fringe’ (like the pastor burning Korans) is now on more ‘mainstream’ news venues to fill time/draw eyeballs. This has the potential to feed on itself… now the ‘fringe’ seems more ‘normal.’
And I’m young enough (or old enough, depending on your perspective) to have seen a decent amount of MTV around the same time as you :)
I guess my point is, I worry when I hear Christian leaders/voices who buy into the noise… and I do hear some. Our Kingdom is an alternate one… that means loving enemies and service and reconciliation.



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nathan

posted August 27, 2010 at 6:37 pm


@Robin,
If you heard that a group of atheists or muslims or whomever was going to have a bonfire made out of Bibles would you feel loved?



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Jerry

posted August 27, 2010 at 6:58 pm


Last Sunday I mentioned in sermons and in prayers that we need to be considering justice as a part of our Christian life (sermon was from Is 58). I mentioned the mosque and koran burning in passing, but these were not the main theme. Someone afterwards mentioned that the problem is we in America don’t really understand the nature of Islam and the Koran. Mosques and Korans are more than religious symbols, they are also political statements. In America, I suppose Bibles and churches could be political statements too.
The difficulty is that everyone has taken up entrenched postions. We need to do lot more listening and learning. I know I do. Does anyone know a good resource on the most commonly accepted view of the Koran by MUSLIMS? Most of what I see is propaganda from both sides.



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Rick L

posted August 27, 2010 at 9:04 pm


Several comments
1. I heard a suggestion that an interesting parellel lay in the events a few years back involving a southern state, don’t even remember which one, that flew a Confederate flag at the top of the state capitol, and the uproar it caused. The flag, like a mosque, in the particular place it was displayed, reflected a great deal of poor taste and insensitivity to an event of great pain. Logically, if one defends the location selected for the mosque, one must also stand in defense of the displaying of the confederate flag if one wnats to be consistent – or else show how the analogy fails. I live in an area where one occasionally sees the confederate flag – in a truck window or on a bumper or in a yard. While I do not challenge the freedom of the individual to display it, I think it is in poor taste.
2. I think the burning of the Korans is a very insensitive thing to do and would never support such an event.
3. My background includes the opportunity some years back – around 2004 maybe? – to be one of 3 invited guests to speak at a muslim house of worship that was sponsoring a dialogue featuring a Christian, a jewish, and a muslim speaker. Our assigned topic was “How does your tradition reconcile the existence of God and the existence of human suffering?” It was a great experience and gave me a much greater insight into the American muslim community.



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kevin s.

posted August 27, 2010 at 11:59 pm


“If you heard that a group of atheists or muslims or whomever was going to have a bonfire made out of Bibles would you feel loved?”
While I disagree with Robin’s position broadly, this is an inadequate response. Christ did many things that cause people not to feel loved. Real Christian love is often lost in translation to the hard of heart.



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Jalynn South

posted August 30, 2010 at 4:49 am


Dear Rick L., Yeah my comment is late, but just catching up on here…But I HAD to say something regarding your comments about the Conderate Flag. I would like to impress upon you a thought, your comments here are an oxy-moron. You see the Confederate flag has great and honorable symbolism, it’s called the “Southern Cross”. Yes, God was woven into that fabric.
It was wonderful that you were able to have that kind of dialogue with such a diverse group..so wouldn’t you agree that we should hold our judgements of others, and perhaps ‘talk’ to people,check into what seems to you to be in Poor Taste. Get the facts, the real stories, not the generic text books we were all subjected to in school. Although a few may have scratched the outer edges of the “WHOLE” truth, they were so lamenated with that one issue, it has become THE perceived and accepted “ONE REASON FOR OUR CIVIL WAR”. It was not sir. And if you are so graciously willing to allow Muslims that disrespectable but legal right of the mosque, then please, afford my [Southern Heritage] ancestors that same kindness.
Please check our Confederate American Pride website, and others, yes some may lean towards radical ideas, but the true history speaks for itself. Thank you and God Bless.



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