Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., finally followed through on his threat to burn a copy of the Koran, Islam’s holy book. In response, hundreds of Afghans have rioted, people have been killed, and the pressure is on the U.S. Congress to condemn Jones’s action.
Just about every way you slice it, what Jones did was dumb.
By inciting violence, it certainly doesn’t help the U.S. war effort. [Read more about national security, terrorism, and the military.]
"This was a surprise," Gen. David Petraeus said Sunday in an interview. He added that the Koran burning in Florida was "hateful, extremely disrespectful, and enormously intolerant," the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
"Every security force leader's worst nightmare is being confronted by essentially a mob, if you will, especially one that can be influenced by individuals that want to incite violence, who want to try to hijack passions, in this case, perhaps understandable passions," Petraeus said. "Obviously it's an additional serious security challenge in a country that faces considerable security challenges."[See editorial cartoons on Afghanistan.]
When you’re in the middle of a pitched battle for the hearts and minds of a people, trashing their most holy book is not going to keep you headed in the direction you want to go.
It’s also a distraction here at home. The pressure is now on Congress, which has better things to do, to officially denounce what Jones did. This put things perilously close to the top of the slippery slope of government taking an official position on the actions and beliefs of U.S. religious leaders—a place where few people really want to go, especially now. What starts with Jones, whose action was really indefensible, may head in a direction that no one wants to go, save for those who dislike religion as a general rule.
Lastly, Jones's actions don't make a whole lot of sense from a religious perspective.
It is common in evangelical circles to refer to “The Great Commission,” a mandate from God to go and share “the good news” about Jesus Christ with nonbelievers, as well as with those who are members of other faiths. It’s what the word “evangelism” means. [See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.]
This means meeting people where they are, not where you might want them to be, in order to tell them about who Jesus was, what he did, and why. If the mission is “to win souls for Christ,” burning another religion’s holiest book is not the best way to start a dialogue. It is, however, a surefire way to get the people you most want to reach to close their eyes and shut their ears to whatever message you are trying to send.
So, on all three major fronts—military, political, and religious—Jones is batting zero. Unfortunately, the response his burning of the Koran provoked at home and abroad forces everyone else to address it. It is not the kind of outrage that can merely be brushed aside as though it never happened. This gives Jones what he most wanted: the public’s attention.
The right way to handle what he did is for individuals, where and as they can, to call it what it was—an irresponsible publicity stunt that does not speak for many or even most Americans.
Corrected 4/7/2011: The original version of this blog post misidentified Dove World Outreach Center.