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Tolerance and Burning the Qur’an

Last week Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach center in Gainesville, Florida announced that he and his church would commemorate the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by burning copies of the Qur’an. Jones says he is doing this because America repeatedly surrenders to Islam or Radical Islam. “If we don’t do it, when do we stop backing down?” he told ABC News. “It’s something we need to do, it’s a message we need to send.”
The response to his self-proclaimed “Burn the Koran Day” has been almost universal condemnation, from Hillary Clinton on behalf of the White House to virtually every religious community throughout the world. Ted Wilson, president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists condemned the act, saying it “is directly contrary to Christianity’s foundational principle that we should treat others in the way we would like to be treated.” In an unusual act, General David Petraeus forcefully spoke against this provocative act expressing a very real fear that this act will ”only profit radical Islam” and possibly put American troops at increased risk.
This promised act takes place in the shadow of the fierce debate over the building of a mosque and Islamic cultural center just a few blocks from Ground Zero. They are both deliberate and provocative acts that seem to be designed to do anything but bring about peace and understanding. Constitutionally it seems clear that Imam Rauf and his supporters have the right to build a mosque wherever he wants, subject to local zoning and planning laws. It seems equally clear that Pastor Jones has the right to burn copies of the Qur’an.
As followers of Jesus, we need to start with the question, “What would Jesus do?” It is inconceivable that Jesus would ever hold a Qur’an-burning celebration, but not because he was afraid of offending. Not a chance. Offending was something he did frequently, but never for such a trivial reason. When Jesus offended it was not to point people at sin and sinners, but rather to point people to God. When Christ offended, he played for keeps. His goal was to snatch people from the gnarly grip of Satan and place them in the gentle, loving arms of Jesus.
Since the 9/11 attacks, in this country and throughout the world, there has been great tension over the meaning of Islam.
In the United States, there has been vitriolic rhetoric from the political Right warning that we are about to lose our “American Way of Life” and from the Left with charges of racism and bigotry. Some in the Muslim community charge anyone who is critical with being Islamophobic. Many in the Christian community have joined with the Muslim community in leveling this charge.
Here is where I struggle: there is not a single Muslim country in the whole world that allows religious freedom. The best one can say is that some are less repressive than others. In European countries where Islam has gained a significant foothold, there is a push to replace civil law with Sharia law. We even find a push to implement Sharia law in some communities in the United States. It is a belief system that does not allow women to hold leadership positions. Its doctrines are repressive toward gays. Sharia law does not, doctrinally, even profess to have a belief in or commitment to religious freedom or tolerance. Why, then, is there sometimes more tolerance for Islam than for Christianity among some Americans?
As Christians, we need to keep foremost in our hearts that each and everyone one us are precious children of God. “God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change.” 2 Peter 3:9, The Message.
This space and time for change includes all Muslims, from radical terrorists to radical pacifists. It includes Terry Jones and his congregation. It includes those who have real concerns about Islam and those who are fighting to protect their rights. We need to be very careful that we treat all others with respect and with the love of Christ.

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