When stuck in inexplicable bumper-to-bumper traffic, my father often says, “All it takes is one idiot to screw it up for the rest of us.”
Today the international news cycle — and to a certain extent foreign relations, the U.S. government, international security and even the stock market — is suffering from gaper’s block caused by not one idiot but a congregation of about 50 in Gainesville, Florida. (Why is the wackness always in Florida?) There, in the obscure church known, with painful irony, as the Dove World Outreach Center, wackadoodle “pastor” Terry Jones (not to be confused with he of greater wit, intelligence and grace from Monty Python fame of the same name) has jackknifed his hoopdie on the world interstate and is leaking oil and anti-freeze all over the road with his wild-eyed plans to burn a bunch of Qur’ans on Saturday (part of the Muslim Sabbath and the 9th anniversary of the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks on the United States.
In an interview with ABC News’ Terry Moran, Jones (pictured above with the ill-conceived facial hair) explained his plan and motivation this way:
Just to put it in a nutshell, why do you want to do this?
Jones: Well, basically like I said we feel we feel that a radical message is necessary. We also want to send a message to the moderate Moslem to stay peaceful and moderate. We live in America, we have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, they are more than welcome to be here, worship, build mosques, but we do not want as it appears to be in parts of the world after they gain in numbers in population they begin to push sharia law, that type of government. We expect the Moslems that are here in America to respect honor, obey submit to our constitution.
Moran: As a man of faith don’t you see how horrible burning someone elses holy book is?
Jones: Well, no. We see that the message that we are trying to send is actually that important. And what we are doing, you actually find in the Bible. In Acts 1919. As the people converted to Christianity, they brought books, books of magic they brought books that they felt were damaging, dangerous and they burnt those books. Even now days in our society we do not burn books and we are not promoting the burning of books, but in some countries like Germany like Holland the book from Adolf Hitler is banned because they feel it is such a dangerous book . even in Holland they are trying to ban the Koran. We are not sending that type of message. Our message is clearly to the radical element of Islam.
Moran: But there are a billion and a half Muslims in the world. Most of whom aren’t radical and you are going to burn their holy book.
Moran: You think that will persuade them of anything but the fact that they feel you hate them?
Jones: No, I think that they probably will be hurt and insulted by it.
Moran: So why do it?
Jones: Well when people burn the flag when they burn the bible when they burn down churches I’m also hurt and insulted. But we feel that this message to that radical element is that important. In fact to a certain extent we would expect moderate Moslems to agree with us. We would expect for them to say the burning of the Koran we don’t agree with that’s not a message that we agree with. We do not believe that this man this church this society should burn our holy book, there is no problem with that. But the message we are trying to send with that even Moslems should agree with. We are trying to send a message to the radical element of Islam. They should also be against that. Because it makes their religion look very, very bad. They should also stand to that and say yes that we agree with. We do not want sharia law. We do not want radical fanaticism Islam.
I know. It’s the kind of thing that, to borrow a phrase from Annie Lamott, must make Jesus want to drink gin out of a cat dish.
But wait. It gets better. Here’s my favorite part of that ABC News interview. The quote below follows an exchange between Moran and Jones where the pastor tells Moran that “millions” of people agree with his plans for International Burn a Koran Day:
Jones: Well we have done many interviews and some of those interviews there is attached a poll and we are running somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of the population agree with us. And to a certain extent i think in Christianity that is the problem. We’ve lost our guts, the church has become weak. The church has become afraid, the church is hiding behind their walls they no longer stand up on issues. We’ve had several times pastors come here saying we are in agreement with you, what you are doing is right, or anyway the message that you are wanting to send is right. But we can’t say anything. If we do we will lose our congregation. We have people who work for large companies have stopped out front and said we are in agreement with you but if we say anything we will be fired. That is in a country where we supposedly have free speech.
Moran: So you want Christians to join you in this burning of the holy book of Islam. Isn’t that holy war?
Jones: If they have a problem with the burning of the Koran that’s fine. I realize the actual burning of the Koran is a radical statement we feel very convinced about it, we plan on doing it, we feel its very necessary. But if Christians were to say that’s too much for us or just normal people, they say the actual burning of the Koran is too much for us, that’s fine. I can absolutely understand that. That is no problem. But they should, all Christians should agree with our message. Our message is that radical Islam is dangerous, let’s keep an eye on it, let’s say no to it. and from a Christian stand point they have to agree with us. Because according to Christianity, Jesus Christ is the only way. And the Koran does not recognize the resurrection, the virgin birth, that Jesus died for our sins, that he’s the son of god, that he’s god,. So from the Christian standpoint they must agree with us.
Moran: Christians sometime ask what would Jesus do. Do you really think that Jesus Christ if he were here today he would say pastor go burn that holy book?
Moran: Jesus Christ would say that.
Jones: Absolutely. If you look at Jesus’ life most of the time Jesus was as people imagine him. He was very nice, and very patient and very loving but there were also times when esus did radical things. He threw the money changers out of the temple he looked right at Peter and called him the devil. He went into the synagogues – that would be like me going into the churches today -went into the synagagoes and called those pastors, those pharases, he called them snakes, he called them vipers. And in fact the Bible says itself that even if an angel of light should appear to you – which is supposedly what happened to Mohammed even if an angel of light should appear to you and give you a different gospel to this one, let him be accursed. So I think Jesus would not run around burning books but i think he would burn this one.
Moran: You think he would burn this one.
And then there’s this exchange:
Moran: Didn’t Jesus say love your enemy and if you’re struck on one cheek, turn the other cheek
Jones: Yes he did.
Moran: What happened to that.
Jones: In my opinion, that is very valid.
Moran: Why not live it?
Jones: In my opinion, that’s what you usually should do. In my opinion you should probably do that 90 percent of the time, 95 percent, 99 percent of the time. But there is a time as Jesus threw them out of temple, and Jesus called the religious leaders snakes, there is a time, it’s a minority, a very very small minority but there is a time to stand up to hold ground and say no, now is not the time to turn the other cheek, now is the time to face challenge.
I’m no biblical scholar, but I’m fairly certain Jesus didn’t offer any caveat to the whole “turn the other cheek” command. Jone’s twisted theology would have us believe in a Gospel of 95-99 percent. A Gospel of hedging your bets and a clarion call to love everyone radically (unless you really don’t like ’em.) That’s a false Gospel. That’s a lie.
But I needn’t point out the fallacy and wrong-headedness of Jones’ thinking and understanding of Jesus’ Way to, say, 95-99 percent of folks out there, Christian or not. Part of the overwhelming opposition to Jones’ Qur’an burning is motivated by an understanding of how he’s perverted the true message of Christianity, even if they don’t believe it themselves. Jesus abolished an-eye-for-an-eye, which, as Gandhi said, leaves the whole world blind. Jesus rose above retaliatory behavior. He said perfect loves casts out fear. He didn’t talk about his followers being known by their guts. He said his true followers would be known by their love.
Love not hate. Kindness not insults. The water of life, not a consuming fire.
Jones is an idiot, but he’s an idiot who’s caused a lot of trouble in the world at the moment. He’s a dangerous idiot.
And he’s hijacked the news cycle with his threatened bonfire of the insanities (or inanities, depending on how you look at it.)
In an hour this afternoon, between about 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. PST, hundreds of news stories moved through Google news when I searched for “Pastor Terry Jones.” Some of the news reports and commentaries were quite thoughtful and straightforward. Others were hysterical and the headlines of a few just made me laugh. The best one, or at least the one that made me laugh the loudest, was from the New York Post: “Jolie, Pope rip Koran burning.” The Pope AND Angelina Jolie. Jones is officially a pariah.
On a more serious note, Jones’ actions, which so far are merely threats, have caused Interpol and the State Department to issue warnings for international travelers. This afternoon, Obama, not one to veer toward hysterionics, said if Jones’ planned Qur’an burnings could very well be the catalyst for suicide and other terrorist attacks on the U.S. and its citizens. And then there’s US General David Petraeus, commander of the US Troops in Afghanistan, claimed yesterday that Jones’ plans are jeopardizing the lives of US servicemen and women and the mission in Afghanistan writ large.
Jones called the idea that lives might be threatened or lost as a result of his religious demonstration “tragical.”
As Thursday wore on, the Associated Press announced that they would not distribute photographs or video of the Qur’an burnings if they do take place on Saturday. According to the Baltimore Sun, FoxNews also said it will not cover the burnings either. Newsweek magazine posted a column that asked, “Should we cover the Qur’an burning?” with the subhed, “How one prejudiced pastor might change the meaning of September 11, and how the media are helping.”
If major (or minor, for that matter) media outlets refuse to cover or distribute images from the Gainesville hate fest if it happens Saturday, the gesture will be largely symbolic in much the same way as the Massachusetts Bible Society’s offer to give away two copies of the Qur’an for each one Jones burns. It’s a beautiful gesture, but it’s a little late to mitigate the damage Jones has done in the consciousness of Muslims around the world who are following the story with increasing outrage. We live in the Internet 2.0+ era. All that is needed is one kid with an iPhone and an email account and the whole world will see images from whatever transpires this weekend at the Dove World Outreach Center.
Religious leaders from around the globe are calling on Jones to cancel his plans. So are political leaders of every stripe. FBI agents visited Jones’ church earlier today and Obama himself reportedly is considering calling the pastor directly.
The best case scenario is that Jones clears the wax from his brain and the crust from his heart and listens to reason and the still small voice that must be saying, in a stage whisper at this point, “Cut the shit, Terry.”
Terry is terrorizing the world with his wackadoodle theology and a box of matches. Sound familiar?
He’s just one idiot but he’s screwing it up for the rest of us.
FOR YOUR READING ENJOYMENT, HERE ARE SOME HEADLINES (AND ACCOMPANYING LINKS TO ARTICLES) FROM TODAY’S TERRY JONES NEWS:
Should We Cover the Quran Burning? (Newsweek)
U.S. tolerance for intolerance protects Qur’an-burner (Toronto Sun)
Why US can’t stop the burning (Hindustan Times)
India condemns U.S. pastor’s move (The Hindu)
British extremist calls on Muslims to burn stars and stripes at U.S. Embassy in retaliation for ‘Burn-A-Koran’ event (Daily Mail UK)
Quran burning ‘will aid al-Qaeda’ (AlJazeera)