Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

What Would Jesus Do? NOT Burn a Qu’ran!

First of all, Happy Rosh Hoshanna (L’shana tovah!) to any Jewish readers of this blog.  May G-D richly bless you and yours this next year and give a just peace to Israel and Palestine.  Although my closest Jewish friend just moved to Colorado last year, so that, for the first time in decades, I do not have regular dialogue with Jewish friends on matters of concern to us both, I mentioned in my previous blog, Levellers, that my debts to Jewish thinkers is quite large.  I had hoped to write on some aspect of Jewish-Christian dialogue, this week.  Now, that will have to wait because of events happening this weekend.

Tomorrow evening (Friday evening) begins Eid al-Fitr, the traditional three-day celebration feast by which Muslims celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan (which, in 2010, runs from sundown 10 August to sundown 10 September) with its daytime fasting.  Considering the rising (nearly epidemic) tide of Islamophobia in the U.S. this year, it is very unfortunate timing that Saturday is also 11 September, the 9th anniversary of the attacks-by-airplane on the twin towers in lower Manhattan and the Pentegon carried out by al-Qaeda terrorists in the name of Islam.  Far too many ignorant people in this country will think that Muslims in this nation are celebrating that terrible terrorist attack, when they are actually celebrating Eid.  Please, people, if you encounter festive Muslims this Friday evening and Saturday, just wish them a happy Eid–DON’T accuse them of celebrating the  3,000 killed on 9/11.  Remember, some 400 Muslims were among the victims of 9/11, too. Osama bin Laden and his ilk no more represent mainstream Islam than the KKK or “Christian” bombers of abortion clinics represent the mainstream of Christianity.

And, of course, as the whole world seems to know, these tensions are being inflamed by a nasty piece of work in Florida named, Terry Jones, the “pastor” of a tiny nondenominational church called the Dove World Outreach Center, which plans to make Saturday “National Burn a Qu’ran Day.”  This is horrible!  Yes, there have already been protests worldwide by Muslims–as well there should be.  Imagine the outrage among Christians if Muslims began burning Christian Bibles! (They wouldn’t.  The Qu’ran itself specifically instructs Muslims to treat the other “peoples of the Book”–i.e., Jews and Christians–with respect.  )

I used to get annoyed in the 1990s with the evangelicals who constantly wore “WWJD?” T-shirts and buttons, etc. because I didn’t think that their inquiries of “What would Jesus do?” were guided by serious study of the Gospels to find out just what Jesus DID in 1st C. Palestine.  It seemed like a cheap shortcut to serious discipleship.  I’ve changed my mind. Bring back the WWJD bumperstickers, buttons, T-shirts, etc.  Because, since 9/11, they’ve all but disappeared.  Now, conservative Christians in the U.S. seem NOT TO CARE  what Jesus would do about most things.  Jesus cares about the poor and expects his follower to do likewise.  Shut-up, Commie, I want my tax-cuts!  Jesus calls us to peacemaking and to love our enemies.  You must be one of those America-haters.  I say we bomb every Muslim nation there is!  Jesus calls us, as did the Law of Moses, to show hospitality and fair treatment to strangers and resident aliens from other nations.  Build the fence! No more anchor-babies! Change the 14th Amendment to stop automatic citizenship for those born here.  Jesus calls us care for the outcasts of society.  You must be another homo-lover as well as a secret Muslim, huh?  No one is asking what Jesus would do anymore. If it is different than their greed and fear and hate, they don’t want to know about it.  By being “Christian,” these folks mean that Jesus died for their sins (true enough) and that they have faith in his saving work, but they emphatically don’t mean to be followers of Jesus.  But that’s the meaning of “Christian,” “Christ-follower.”  We began as a sect of messianic Jews convinced that Jesus of Nazareth, though executed on a Roman cross, was alive and the Messiah.  We “followers in this Way” were first called “Christians” in Antioch.   There is no authentic worship of God in Christ without serious discipleship–FOLLOWING Jesus.

You don’t bear authentic witness to Jesus by burning books that others consider sacred, no matter how wrong you think they are.

Yes, the same First Amendment that allows other fools to burn the U.S. flag, will protect Pastor Jones if he goes through with it.  In a pluralistic world, all believers have to put up with the blasphemies of unbelievers.  In the ’80s, an artist unveiled a painting called “Christ in Urine” (quickly receiving the nickname “Piss Jesus.”).  It rightly outraged Christians–but we had to put up with it. The artist had the right to free speech–even when it was blasphemous and insulting.  Christians are regularly mocked in comedies–and sometimes we mock ourselves–and sometimes this is shocking in the extremes to which it goes.  We have to put up with it.  Likewise, Muslims must learn to put up with insults and outrages–from Danish cartoons of the Prophet to this scumbag of a “pastor” wanting to burn a Qu’ran.  As long as he has the proper fire permits, Jones has the legal right to burn a Qu’ran.  It’s the price we pay for free speech (including symbolic speech).

But Christians need to realize the DEPTH of the insult that Jones is giving to Muslims.  Unlike in Christianity, where we believe the Bible to convey the will of God, tell us of Jesus and the way of salvation, shape us into a people, Muslims (I’m told) attribute a saving role to the Qu’ran itself.  Burning a Christian Bible would be insulting to Christians, but burning a Qu’ran is even MORE insulting to Muslims. (They would also find burning or desecrating a Jewish Tanakh or Christian Bible horrid, too.)  It’s more like if somebody went into a Catholic church and urinated all over the Eucharistic Host.  (Traditional Catholics believe the bread and wine in some way BECOME the body and blood of Christ!)  It is blasphemy of the foulest kind.  And even if one thinks Islam is a false religion and Muslims entirely mistaken, one does not win a hearing for one’s own views by this kind of deep insult! Even if Jones and the World Dove Outreach Center believe that all Muslims are their enemies, this is wrong, because Jesus told his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those which despitefully use you” (Matt. 5:39) If he goes through with it, Jones will be bringing shame to the cause of Christ even as he deeply insults Muslims.

So, what can be done?  Well, different responses are being planned throughout the nation.  Many have designated Friday, “National READ the Qu’ran Day!”  Here in Kentucky, the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship, Interfaith Paths to Peace and other sponsors have organized a “Honoring Sacred Texts” service at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville at 11:30 a.m.  Sacred scriptures of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and the Ba’hai will be displayed and passages from them will be read.  This “Honoring Sacred Texts” service follows a 4.5 mile walk of “Voices United for Refugees” highlighting the problem of sub-Saharan African refugees.  This is also sponsored by the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship, Kentucky Refugee Ministries, Interfaith Paths to Peace and others.

“We want to show the world that in Louisville we don’t burn sacred books; we honor them,” said Terry Taylor, executive director of Interfaith Paths to Peace and one of the organizers. “We may not all agree about every word written in our sacred texts, but we do honor those books and our brothers and sisters in other religions who revere them.”

I hope God multiplies actions like this around the nation and the world–and that they drown out the message of Terry Jones and his evil actions.  There is real threat in Jones’ planned Qu’ran burning: ” Where they burn books, at the end they also burn people.” So said Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) a German poet (Jewish by birth who converted to Christianity) wrote TWO CENTURIES before the Holocaust proved him right.  Perhaps Jones could be arrested after all–for inciting to violence.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that we must all learn to live together as brothers [and sisters, King wrote before the rise of inclusive language] or perish together as fools.  Now, more than ever, we see this to be true.  May we all act accordinly.  What would Jesus do? Well, he certainly wouldn’t burn a Qu’ran or any book that someone considered sacred–no matter how mistaken he considered that view.  If we consider ourselves Jesus’ followers, we have to act in ways that bring honor, not shame, to his cause.

UPDATE:  I am pleased to find that Jones has cancelled his Qu’ran burning event and will meet with Imam Faisl of the proposed Cordoba House center in lower Manhattan. I don’t trust Jones, but, at least the burning is cancelled.

September 9, 2010 - Posted by | ethics, free speech, interfaith dialogue


  1. Amen! Well said. Civilization is supposed to be better than this, Christians are supposed to be better than this. For civilization (emphasis on civil) to thrive, we must stop the mutton-headed provocations just because we know we can push somebody’s buttons. I know, you can say, “well look what so-and-so did…” What did your Mamma say? Just because so-and-so is doing it, doesn’t mean you have to follow suit – you can be bigger than that (LISTEN TO YOUR MAMMA).

    It is sad when in our country, a sensitive, rational Christian can get metaphorically “mowed down” by the religious right in the name of Christ. It’s enough to make a reasonable person forget religion altogether. All of this is why we have to do better in this country. Christians must demonstrate by our actions that we have a better, more loving way.

    Comment by Charles Kinnaird | September 9, 2010 | Reply

  2. Just thought i would post up my views. I am a muslim who was raised as a christian and have found islam to be the best thing that has happened to me. In islam it would be the biggest sin to burn the bible or torah (jewish scriptures). In our beautiful Quran it is mentioned that that we have to respect the “people of the book” (please google this). The Quran as muslims we belive was the final message in conjunction with the original bible and torah.
    The Quran also mentions Jesus which muslims believe is a prophet and moses (also a prophet). Jesus is actually mentioned more in the Quran then our final messenger Muhammad(pbuh. So to burn a book which mentions jesus is ironic to me as well as an act of terror. Thank you for defending my religion and its great to know there are open minded people in this world.

    Comment by penny | September 9, 2010 | Reply

    • I’m aware of these things, Penny. Although I have Muslim friends and have been engaged in Muslim-Christian dialogue, I was really defending MY religion against those like this “pastor” who besmirch it. Thanks for your kind words.

      Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 9, 2010 | Reply

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