You might have seen recently on the news that Terry Jones, a minister in Gainesville, Florida, announced that his church would sponsor a Koran burning on this coming Saturday, September 11. Then followed days of international protest from the Christian and non-Christian world. About half an hour ago, the BBC reported that he had announced his plan to cancel the event. I'm not 100% sure that he's really canceled it, but I hope so. What unnecessarily provocative and ugly thing to do.
A huge number of people asked the Covenant Seminary faculty what they thought about the matter, and they responded with an open letter, written by World Mission Professor Nelson Jennings, stating their position on the event. I thought you might like to see it:
Dear Dr. Terry Jones and Members of the Dove World Outreach Center (Gainesville, Florida),
As I previously indicated to you both by email and over the phone, I recently became aware of your “International Burn a Koran day,” scheduled for September 11. You have publically announced the event, and urged others to participate, through your church’s website (http://www.doveworld.org/) and through a specially created Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/International-Burn-A-Koran-Day/134718123226530?v=wall ). As the Facebook page puts it, “On September 11th, 2010, from 6pm - 9pm, we will burn the Koran on the property of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL in remembrance of the fallen victims of 9/11 and to stand against the evil of Islam. Islam is of the devil!” The scheduled event is receiving widespread attention (cf. http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/07/29/florida.burn.quran.day/index.html; http://www.myfoxorlando.com/dpp/news/marion_alachua/081210church-members-expected-to-burn-koran), and various people are expressing their opinions and intended responses.
Relations today between people who are Muslims and people who are Christians are of extraordinary importance – including in an unprecedented way those of us in the United States of America. People’s beliefs about God and salvation are at stake, as are the well-being of local communities, societies, and international relations between countries. It is within this extraordinary situation that you, together as a Christian pastor and as an expressly Christian community, have taken the initiative to conduct, publicize, and invite participation in what can only be called – too mildly or too extremely, depending on one’s perspective – such a provocative event as this “International Burn a Koran day.”
In response to this event that has been scheduled by other Christians in the United States, that has been publicized within today’s extraordinary situation of Muslim-Christian relations, and to which I and others have been invited to participate, I believe that it is incumbent on me as one Christian leader serving a portion of the wider Christian community to issue a public response. (Please note, however, that this response is my own; I am not serving as a spokesperson for any church or organization.) My response consists of the following points:
1. I agree with you that human beings’ salvation from sin and hell, as well as to eternal life with the living and triune God, is through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
2. I commend you for your concern for and solidarity with fellow Christians worldwide.
3. I respect the time-honored freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
4. I encourage only peaceable responses toward you – i.e., against Dr. Terry Jones, members of the Dove World Outreach Center, or others who are in agreement with your religious beliefs about Islam – insofar as you do not cause immediate threat to others of bodily harm or damage to personal property.
Response to Proposed “International Burn a Koran Day”
5. I realize that there are complexities beyond the scope of this short response in the enormous and worldwide matter of Muslim-Christian relations, particularly those associated with the interrelationship between religious and societal/governmental concerns.
6. I realize as well that there are deep emotions – associated with both religious and social/national identity – over the events of September 11, 2001 in particular and Muslim-Christian relations in general.
At the same time,
7. I espouse the following beliefs that contradict reasons for the scheduled Qur’an burning:
a. Christians, whether individually or organized, should eschew violent and inflammatory actions taken as Christians against anyone – particularly violent and inflammatory actions taken in the name of, and with the alleged support of, expressly religious teachings.
o Using proper force, including violent force, is a God-given prerogative of certain societal and governmental authorities (including Christians serving in those roles), not of Christians (or members of any other religious tradition) as individual or organized Christians (or as members of any other religious tradition).
o Violent and inflammatory actions taken for expressly religious purposes usually (often unwittingly) support other, non-religious interests, for example political, ethnic, and economic interests.
b. Christians, while devoted to the overall well-being of the local communities, countries, and world of which we are members, must be able to differentiate between (although not totally separate) our devotion to the wider, international Christian community and our devotion to our local communities, countries, and world. Similarly, Christians must be able to differentiate between (although not totally separate) the actual interests of the wider, international Christian community and those of our various local communities, our countries, and of the entire world. I believe that, in particular, you fail properly to differentiate between devotion to, as well as the actual interests of, the wider Christian community and the United States of America, for example in the statement on “The Church Must Take Action” [http://islamisofthedevil.com/church-must-take-action].
c. Christians must not simplistically categorize Islam, whether uniquely or together with other religious traditions, as “of the devil.” Instead, Christians should see non-biblical religious traditions as a combination of human aspiration for the Creator God, sinful rebellion against that same Creator God, and satanic deception. Not only is it therefore overly simplistic and reductionist to categorize Islam or any other religious tradition by reference to less than all three of these aspects. Doing so is also insulting, derogatory, and unnecessarily inflammatory toward fellow human beings, fellow bearers of God’s image, and fellow citizens of local communities, countries, and the world.
Response to Proposed “International Burn a Koran Day”
As I consider all of the statements above, I are firmly persuaded:
1. To urge you to cancel, as well as apologize (with an explanation so that, as much as possible, you are not unfairly misunderstood) for the scheduling and publication of, the planned public Qur’an burning;
2. Not to participate in the event (if it takes place), as well as to urge others not to participate in any such event.
3. To encourage you and other Christians to seek constructive relations with people who are Muslims on individual, local community, national, and global levels. Such constructive relations, I believe, are evangelistic, peaceful, and cooperative.
Much has been written elsewhere concerning these various points, and there is much more to discuss. I welcome constructive interaction with you and others who are interested.
J. Nelson Jennings
St. Louis, MO