What a strange week! The news is dominated by a pastor who has a congregation of not more than 50 people. But because of his call to burn the Qur’an and start an “International Burn a Qur’an day,” Pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida became a media celebrity. He got not just national, but worldwide attention. His picture was on the front of all the major newspapers and news web pages. Top US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus issued a statement on it. So did President Obama. Even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made a personal phone call to Jones urging him to cancel the event.
Many of us at Reformed Theological Seminary were also deeply disturbed by Pastor Jones’ action. Since the seminary I serve at is in Florida, I felt it necessary to try to contact Terry Jones. My appeal went something like this: that while I share his concern about the dangers of radical Islam, his actions would not only put our troops at risk, but it would put many Christian missionaries at risk. How do I know? I received calls this week from missionaries around the world urging me to do something.
More than that, the gospel will be slandered, not to mention ignoring Jesus’ call to not return evil for evil. Rather we are called to respect others (1 Peter 2.12,17) and to live in peace with all people (Romans 12.18).
On top of all this, we must affirm the freedom of speech and freedom of religion for all in our nation, so that our own freedoms will be protected.
Did Dr. Terry Jones see my appeal? I don’t know. But at the end of the day, Pastor Jones finally cancelled the event. Thankfully, he called it off late in the day and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
I have no hesitation in saying that the outrage against Terry Jones was justified. The event he was planning is a poor Christian witness and downright inflammatory.
But there is something else that bothers me. The counter threats towards Jones and Christians worldwide in response to the Qur’an burning tells us something about radical Islam. Churches in India, Pakistan, Uganda, Saudi Arabia, etc., were all threatened over the Qur’an burning. While Jones actions were inflammatory, the threatened response was much worse. All over the world a violent retaliation was promised. And yet the American media, for the most part, was terribly quiet about this side of the controversy.
Why does this kind of violence almost always come from Muslims when they are offended by our “blasphemous actions,” whereas no one seems to get upset about Muslim blasphemies against Christians? Had this burning taken place, and Christians been the target of Islamic retribution, what would the media have focused on this? Crowds of angry Muslim protesters in Afghanistan and Pakistan were already chanting “death to Christians.” Which is worse, the burning of a Qur’an in Gainesville or the Islamic threats that this is tantamount to an act of war?
If all these counter threats tell us something about radical Islam, the selective outrage displayed this week tells us something about ourselves. The most puzzling thing in all is not the actions of a misguided pastor, but the selective outrage shown by both the secular and the Christian media this week. We are rightly outraged over the hatred shown in Gainesville. But we shut our eyes and ears to the extraordinary hatred shown to believers around the world day after day. Media concern is solely fixed on anti-Muslim bigotry. Even in the Christian media, hardly anyone gets this upset about a bigotry far worse seen in the on-going persecution of Christians in Islamic lands.
Why do we hear no Western protests towards those laws in Islamic nations that ban the wearing of a cross or a star of David? Where is the outrage? Consider the stories of just the last month coming from the persecuted church all over the world. Does it not bother us that Moroccan pharmacies this past month were threatened for using the cross symbol. Owners were warned to remove the cross from storefronts or face beheading! Terry Jones actions do not even come close to this in severity.
Does it not bother us that ten medical missionary were massacred in Afghanistan recently by the Taliban? That Kazakhstan has proposed new legal codes discriminating against those who practice the Christian faith? That Christians in Uzbekistan are imprisoned? That pastors were recently killed in Nigeria by Muslim radicals? That Al Shabaab insurgents keep threatening the kidnapping and killing of Christians in various countries? That Christians are disappearing from Iraq? That some Christian Copts are living as slaves to Muslims in Egyptian villages? That Christians are being harassed, arrested and deported in Iran? That Christian villages were deliberately flooded in Pakistan? That Christian aid workers in Somalia were recently expelled? That the Pakistani Taliban recently killed three Christian foreign aid workers? That blasphemy laws are used against Pakistani Christians for speaking against Muhammad and the Quran? Does it not bother us that Muslim radicals have recently attacked Christians in Ethiopia? Or that Christians in Somalia are called criminal and apostate simply for being Christians? Does it not bother us that Somali immigrants in Nairobi say “our religion calls on us to kill everyone who does not believe in Allah and his prophet”? Does it not bother us that Egyptian police routinely wiretap the phones of church leaders? Do not the threatened massacres against Christians in Nigeria prick our consciences? What of the Muslim rape of two Christian girls in Pakistan, or the radical Muslim threats against the Batak Protestant church in Indonesia? Or the Muslim extremists who attack the Bekasi church? Or the Al-Qaeda threats to kill Christians in Saudi Arabia? What of the radical Muslims who stop the building of churches in Zanzibar? Or the violence against newly baptized Christians in Bangladesh? Or the torching of churches in Malaysia? What of Wahabi Islam and its calls for violence against Christians and Jews? What of the honor killings threatened to Christian converts from Islam in many of these countries under Shania law?
I am not making these up. Every line in that last paragraph came from stories reported in the last month (just one month) as reported by International Christian Concern on their web site https://www.persecution.org/ And these are just the stories against Christians. Much more could be written about the violent Islamic hatred expressed towards Jews.
Thank God Pastor Terry Jones has now changed his mind. I joined in the voices privately calling him to stop his offensive, embarrassing, provocative, and yes, un-Christ like action. But if this is where our outrage stops, then we are in a heap of trouble.