I am about to make some very conservative, Muslim-hating people angry. But as a follower of Jesus Christ, I feel I have no choice in this matter. What prompts it is one more wrong-headed, hateful attempt by someone who is a part of the Christian community to fight a culture war instead of representing Jesus Christ, Son of God and Lord of our Lives.
In Gainesville FL there is a tiny church called Dove World Outreach Center. (It claims only a few dozen members). Its pastor, Larry Jones, has captured the attention of the media and Muslims throughout the world with his announcement that on September 11th he is going to burn a copy of the Qu’ran. The Qu’ran is the most Holy Book of the Islamic faith. It would easily be akin to someone burning a Bible or to some, burning a flag.
Jones’ so-called justification? “:We believe we cannot back off the truth of the dangers of Islam, of radical Islam, just because people are offended.” Jones is convinced the Islamists want to take over the American government and impose sha’ria, Islamic law, upon our nation. “I believe you are dealing with an element that you cannot talk to. We are dealing with an element that must be shown a certain amount of force.”
Around the world this has provoked outrage. Once again, it has given fuel to the popular belief that Christians are intolerant and hateful. Once again, an entire faith is being sullied by a radical extreme out of step with authentic biblical Christianity. (Sort of like every Muslim who is lumped in the same mix with Osama bin Laden and his hate-filled thugs.)
In Afghanistan it has provoked considerable concern among our generals. They worry about heightened violence that may be generated if the Gainesville Church goes through with its Qu’ran burning. Lt. General William Caldwell says, “We are over here defending the rights of American citizens and are not debating the First Amendment Rights people have. But I tell you, their very actions will, in fact, jeopardize the safety of young men and women who are serving over here and will undermine the very mission we are trying to accomplish.” Jones’ response is that he hears the General’s message and is taking it very seriously but does not believe he dare back down. “We’ll be praying” is the only comfort he gives those in harm’s way who will be put in greater harms way to make a political statement (in the guise of a religious one.)
I am deeply troubled by the “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” mentality of many American Christians angry about injustices done against Christians and insults to their faith. But the hatred and verbal violence they justify makes them no better than the radical Muslims who justify such tactics to defend their faith. How can they justify their words, their counter-attacks, their inciteful tactics with the clear command of Jesus Christ to love your enemies and do good to those who despitefully use you?
This is one more sad example of what happens when cultural values and personal politics supplant the values of God’s Word. And no, few will criticize those of another religion as harshly they do us of the Christian faith? It may be fair. I even heard someone say it wasn’t fair the ACLU would defend flag-burners but not do the same for Qu’ran burners. (By the way, has anyone asked the ACLU about their position on this?) This, however, is not the point.
Christians, authentic Christians, are always held to highest standard – the values of Jesus Christ as contained in the Bible, the Word of God. Not held to different standards by the world (even though we are). but we are held to higher standards by Jesus Christ himself. And whenever sinful standards are the norm in the world, Christians will always be held to a different standard — and I pray that we are.
Hatred of other nations, attacks on people because of their religion, violence against the innocent, actually dishonor 9-11 because they say that only more bigotry can give value to the innocent victims of bigotry. If that is true, then our nation and our world are in deep trouble and Jesus better come back quickly, before we destroy one another or drive people away from the kingdom of God.