The Religion Newswriters Association lists the top 10 relgion stories of 2011, and I was disappointed, but not surprised when Pastor Terry Jones did not appear on the list. Jones is the Florida-based minister who planned a public Koran burning gets my vote for the most influential American religious figure of 2010. Why was I disappointed? Because he showed us the limits of our fear and rage, or at least the limits of their expression.
At the end of the day, most Americans, including those with a great deal of fear of Islam, and anger directed at all Muslims, rejected Jones’ proposed actions. Terry Jones helped us to remember that whatever it is we think, the vast majority of us know that burning books, especially books that are sacred to pretty much anyone, is simply not right. While that should be obvious, it turns out that we needed the reminder and we got it, thanks to Mr. Jones.
Addiction experts speak of the need for addicts to “hit bottom” before they can address their addiction, and that’s what happened with America and Terry Jones. We hit bottom, and when we did, even people and organizations that might have been supportive of Jones, pulled back and declared that his proposal crossed a line which needed to remain uncrossed.
Ultimately, even Pastor Jones realized the folly of his ways and in doing so, showed us the line we as a nation were not prepared to cross. That’s a story worth recalling.
Jones surely taught us more than the whole Park 51/Ground Zero Mosque project, which topped the Religion Newswriters Association list. There is no building in place and not even one under construction. That story taught us nothing other than the ways in which a small group of people can stir up publicity based on either over-the-top proposals which have limited chances of being realized as proposed, or on the effectiveness of exploiting baseless fear in the electorate in the months leading up to an election.
We ought not to confuse people we admire or agree with, with those who are important or influential. I doubt there is much about which Terry Jones and I would agree upon, especially when it comes to interreligious affairs I general or Islam in particular.
Having said that, to look back on religion stories of 2010 and fail to acknowledge how we all learned an important lesson because of him, would be a mistake. So where on the list he belongs, I cannot say, but he surely belongs there which is why I cast this vote for Pastor Terry Jones.