Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Man, a Match, and a Koran


As September 11th grows closer, many Americans will choose memorial services or prayer vigils to remember and honor those who lost their lives in the horrific attacks on our country. They will gather at churches, community centers, and in some cases the sites themselves to mark the tragedy that shook a nation. While these traditional displays of reverence may suit the majority of the populace, one man has decided that what our nation needs is a good old fashioned bonfire. That man is none other than Reverend Terry Jones (no relation to the Monty Python member) who helms the fifty member congregation of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. Pastor Jones has decided that he and his flock will gather copies of the Koran and set them ablaze on September 11th in order to bring attention to the continuing threat that Islam poses to Christianity (and apparently, publishing).
Jones, who penned the brilliantly understated book Islam is of the Devil, believes that the actions of his congregation are directed by none other than the big man himself. The planned bonfire has drawn criticism from General David H. Petraeus, who feels that the negative reaction of Muslims could further endanger American troops fighting abroad. The Gainesville’s mayor publicly referred to the Dove Outreach Center as an "an embarrassment to our community” and vowed to do everything in his power to stop the demonstration. So far, the city has refused to grant Jones the necessary “open burn” permits because although burning books is not specifically prohibited, the burning of paper is.
Pastor Jones believes that his First Amendment right supersedes any ordinances and vows to continue as long as long as Jehovah gives him the green light. The worldwide notoriety surrounding his proposed actions caused demonstrators in Afghanistan to wrap an effigy of him in an American flag and burn both. Jones also claims to have received over a hundred death threats along with several copies of the Koran to burn. He has also received a number of unsolicited Pottery Barn catalogues but authorities are not sure if the incidents are related.
Fortunately for his congregation, Jones is no stranger to handling bad publicity. In March of this year, the Dove World Outreach Center drew criticism for erecting a large sign on its property that read “No Homo Mayor” in reference to then mayoral candidate and now mayor Craig Lowe who is openly gay. When the I.R.S. investigated the sign and warned the group they could lose their tax exempt status if they continued to participate in political activities they quickly removed the word “mayor” from the sign to make it less offensive.
While many have decried the group as “embarrassing” “intolerant” and even “un-American,” I personally feel that Pastor Jones is simply exercising his rights as an American. If the Dove World Outreach Center wishes to burn a few books who are we to judge. Like it or not, if all fifty members of that congregation want to put on a John Denver CD and set fire to all the first editions of Little House on the Prairie while dressed as woodland creatures, that is their right. I may not agree with it, but I don’t have to.

I do however; have some suggestions for the reverend:
·         If your church’s mission is to rid the world of all homosexuals, liberals, atheists, and members of any religion that does not adhere to your strictly fundamentalist view of Christianity, perhaps your use of the phrase “world outreach” should be reconsidered for the sake of clarity.
·         If you have amassed twice as many death threats as followers, you may want to reconsider your career path as a minister. Maybe a position in Congress is more your speed.
·         Before jumping to the mass burnings of a sacred text, it may be prudent to try out a bake sale or church bazaar just to ease you way into the whole “community event” arena. After all, even the Nazis started out slow.
·         In addition to succinct position statements, your church sign might also be used to advertise Sunday school times and worship schedules. For instance, if one were to use smaller font the sign could read:
                                                Sunday School 9:00 AM
                                                Worship 10:00 AM
                                                NO HOMOS!
·         The key to boosting attendance at any church sanctioned event is complimentary refreshments.
It remains to be seen whether or not Jones will carry out his plans this weekend, but if the safety of our troops truly depends on how the world interprets the actions of a few well-publicized citizens, someone had better put a lid on The Real Housewives of New Jersey….

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