Sunday, April 3, 2011

Inciting Violence in the Name of Jesus: Pastor Terry Jones and Americans' Obligation to Speak Out

Lizette Alvarez reports in the New York Times today that Pastor Terry Jones of the Gainesville, Florida, Dove World Church says he'd do it all over again, even knowing people would be killed when he publicly burned a Koran.  Jones tells Alvarez he did it to "stir the pot" and "shake the boat" and to show that Islam and its holy book are instruments of violence, death and terrorism.

The fire Jones's actions lit has continued to spread.  Protests in Afghanistan, where 11 people including 7 U.N. employees were killed on Friday, are now in their third day.  As Fred Clarkson reminds us in an instructive overview of the story and its background at Daily Kos, when Jones first threatened to burn the Koran last year, world leaders from the pope to President Obama pled with him to refrain from an act everyone knew would incite violence, and he backed down.

Only to stage a Koran burning on March 20 and place video clips of the action on his website--lighting the flame of reaction now sweeping across Islamic areas of the world.

And I'm surprised to hear so few voices within the U.S. raised in outrage at what Jones has accomplished.  It's to Andrew Sullivan's credit, I think, that he blogs about the incident yesterday, though, in my view, his framing of the Islamic response to the Koran burning as typical of an entire religion overstates the case in a way that's characteristic of how Sullivan approaches discussions of Islam and Islamic issues.

As he notes, "The interaction between Christianism and Islamism could take us all back to the dark ages."  But as readers of Sullivan's work will know, "Christianism" is a term that's not equivalent with "Christianity," but which denotes a bastardization and politicization of the Christian message by groups whose understanding of what Jesus preached and stood for has long since taken leave of the actual message.  And who persistently distort what the gospels say for political gain, turning the message of Jesus into its precise opposite.

Which is, I'd like to think, what Sullivan also means when he speaks of Islamism--that it's to be contrasted with Islam itself, though that contrast doesn't come through strongly in his statement about Islam as a religion of violence.  Islamism as a politicization and bastardization of the message of Mohammed and the Koran that has little to do with what Mohammed actually taught and what Islam stands for . . . . 

My own perspective is that I happen to live in that part of the world that has a primary responsibility to do something about the Christianism--about the deformation of the message of Jesus--and as a Christian, I have an obligation to keep trying to set the record straight as some of my fellow Christians continue to distort what Jesus said and taught.  To make his message fit a worldview entirely antithetical to everything he stood for.

Something some political leaders are working overtime to do right now as they prepare for the Iowa primaries in 2012.  As Erik Erickholm reports in the New York Times today, a concerted effort is underway now in that state to revive the religious right coalition that jhas dominated American political life in the period from Reagan to Obama.  A coalition whose worldview depends on the dangerous, illicit identification of a mythical "American way of life" with the gospels, with what Jesus stood for and proclaimed.

As if God plays favorites in the world, choosing one nation and anointing and protecting it, while condemning others.  As if God has chosen and is blessing a nation that owns the majority of the world's wealth, a nation in which the gap between the rich and poor is reaching epic proportions.

As if the scriptures are not brimming over with condemnations of the exploitation of the poor by the rich and of the lust for wealth.  As if Jesus did not make our salvation entirely dependent on whether we recognize him in the least among us, in the sick, the homeless, the prisoner, those without food and clothing.

As I say, even though I naturally deplore the misuse of Islamic ideas and Islamic religious tenets to foster violence, I happen to live in a nation that professes to be, in some unique way, a city on a hill set there by God as an example to the entire world.  And I happen to be a Christian living in that nation.

And so my responsibility is to deal with what I have the power, possibly, to change.

And from where I stand, what Pastor Terry Jones has done in lighting fires now sweeping across significant  sectors of the globe is a heinously dangerous, indefensible act that needs to be condemned resoundingly by Americans in general and by people of faith in this nation with the soul of a church in particular.

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