I find it utterly amazing that a small town pastor in FL, Terry Jones, has managed to garner multinational attention. So the first thing I would like to say on this subject is “shame on you” to the mass media outlets for blowing this story up far beyond it’s actual consequences. But then again, creating news to report on is what it’s all about. Since it is the premier faith issue of the moment, however, I hope we can use it to generate many good and enlightening discussions both within and without the Christian community.
While many have undertaken to put in their .02 on this issue, I want to offer what I believe is a helpful grid wherein I believe a more fruitful discussion can be had. I believe this issue falls into two distinctly different categories that need to be addressed, each with it’s own set of unique questions.
Here are the categories (in no particular order):
- What are Mr Jones’s rights and responsibilities as a citizen in the kingdom of the world (The United States of America).
- What are Mr Jones’s rights and responsibilities as a citizen in the kingdom of heaven (as a Christian).
1. Kingdom of the World
As a citizen of the kingdom of this world we have two distinct issues that need to be addressed:
- What are our rights and freedoms?
This question has come under fire since many are claiming that man’s actions to constitute “hate speech”. The fact of the matter is that while Mr Jones’s actions are indeed incendiary, the fact is that our commitment to free speech is shown precisely in how we deal with speech we know is unpopular and considered offensive (even hateful) to others. Like the other cases of Islamic censorship (ie. cartoons, books, etc.) this one should make us pause and seriously question our commitment to free speech and whether we want to live in a culture and nation that modifies its laws at the whim of easily offended Muslims.
- What are our responsibilities to our fellow citizens, including the ones who are sworn to protect us?
As General Petraeus warned, insulting Muslims will inexorably lead to hardships for both our troops as well as Americans both abroad as well as here at home. While I respect and agree with Petraeus’s assessment of the dangers, I must also disagree with his recommended solution of preventing the violence by calling for an American citizen to refrain from employing their rights as citizen based on the actions of non-citizens. I would be more willing to agree with Mr. Petraeus’s suggestion, however, if he and others such as President Obama, were willing to do what President Bush did after 9/11 which is to clearly identify our enemy as a logical outworking of a decidedly un-peaceful religious ideology.1
2. Kingdom of Heaven
- We do not need to accept, even for a second, the premise of Islam that the Koran is either sacred or worthy of any respect whatsoever. There is plenty of evidence in Scripture regarding the smashing/destroying of idols. There are even accounts of books being burned in the Bible (occult books, Acts 19:19). Unfortunately, many Christians seem to hold an idolized view of the Bible in the same way that Muslims do regarding the Koran. Both are wrong.
- We need to recognize that as Christians we have been given a great deal of liberty when it comes to evangelistic methodologies. While I may be inclined to agree with those who say that burning the Koran is not likely to produce many fruitful discussions with Muslims, I would still be hesitant to call what Mr Jones is doing not-Christian. Unwise, perhaps, but to call it un-Christian would require us to substantiate what I believe many erroneously perceive is a Biblical command not to offend anyone.
Regardless of whether you accept my points of view regarding the questions above. I nonetheless believe that the grid I’ve outlined will help us keep the various aspects of the issue in focus and hopefully help us focus our discussions in a more clear and coherent direction.
I am warning you… if you burn my holy book, or remove it from the school system, I will retaliate with love. If you defame the founder of my religion in word, movie, or bottle of urine, I will be extreme in my response of mercy. If you kill my fellow-believers as they bring humanitarian aid, more of us will come to take their place as missionaries. I am a Christian. I respond in peace and love.
After several people have asked me whether I agree, overall, with the concept of burning a Koran I ran into the following video by an excellent apologetics ministry, Acts 17 (answeringmuslims.com), who spend a lot of time reaching out to Muslims. Here is what they have to say about the subject:
There basic point is this: Why burn the Koran when exposing both it’s history and its contents are far MORE damaging?
Oh, and as for those who regard the direct and fairly confrontational tone underlieing Mr Jones’s proposed actions as unhelpful when reaching Muslims I want to leave you with this thought. A friend of mine, Mike Licona, author of Paul Meets Muhammad: A Christian-Muslim Debate on the Resurrection, in prepairing for a professional debate with a noted Muslim3 was given advice by former Muslims on campus to the tune of: Be direct and bold. Do not be afraid to show aggression. Muslims will not take offense at a display of aggression, they will take offense at a sign of weakness.
Here is a brief example of a productive Christian-Muslim dialog: