Thursday, September 9, 2010

Burning the Qu'ran is not the way a Christian acts

As we rapidly approach the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, we are also approaching pastor Terry Jones' self-declared Burn a Koran Day, slated for Saturday, 9/11/10. Jones says he continues to pray about whether to stage a burning of the Muslim holy book at his church in Gainesville, Florida this Saturday. As a Christian, I do not need to pray about what Scripture clearly sets forth. So, I recommend this passage from St. Paul to Jones:
"Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' To the contrary, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17-21-ESV).
Besides, it should go without saying that not all Muslims have offended us, that is, not all Muslims are complicit in the 9/11 attacks. In fact, as the Holy Father takes every opportunity to point out, people of faith, especially Jews, Christians, and Muslims, have more in common with each other than we do with the prevailing secular, instrumentalist, and empiricist mind-set, which is so reductive of the human person. Much of what Muslims find objectionable about the West is also offends believing Christians.

As a Catholic Christian, I affirm with the words of the fathers of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council that "[t]he Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God" (Nostra Aetate, par. 3).

One temptation that has be resisted by Christians is the temptation to say, "I don't see why Muslims would get that worked up about a small Christian congregation, led by a publicity-seeking extremist, burning a few copies of the Qu'ran. I wouldn't care that much if a bunch of hard-line Muslims burned the Bible." This temptation must be resisted for two reasons. First, Muslims revere the Bible, both the Jewish Scriptures and the New Testament. Second, the relationship of Christians to the Bible is very different from that between Muslims and the Qu'ran, or between Jews and the Tor'ah. I suppose there are those Christians who view the Bible in a similar way, but this is not the historic Christian approach. After all, we are not, properly speaking, a people of the Book, but the people of the resurrected and living Lord!

A French friend posted something on Facebook this morning that indicated that Terry Jones' Qu'ran burning was typical of people in the U.S. today. By comparison, the U.S. is far more tolerant and even indulgent of religion than is France. Several other Europeans concurred and added their own disparaging comments about Americans. Adding irony to irony, they are engaging in the same kind of tactic as Terry Jones. To wit: burning the Qu'ran is not a "very American" thing to do in these times and to assert against all evidence that it is is to demonize people in the U.S. the same way Jones demonizes Muslims. The truth is that most people in the U.S., especially those who are religious, are appalled and offended by Jones' uncharitable foolishness. I find it far more offensive that people think most of us here in the U.S. approve of this kind of obnoxious behavior. At the end of the day, this is just another iteration of Fred Phelps' anti-Christian "God hates fags" campaign. If "God is love" (1 John 4:8.16), then God cannot hate anyone, lest God cease to be God.


While it is ill-advised and appalling, this one pastor and his very small congregation, only made significant by an irresponsible news media who took Jones' weird little gesture viral, are free to do this. Because one is free to do something doesn't make it good or right. I am always amused by people who say morals can't or shouldn't be legislated by the state and then turn around and insist that the state legislate morality, usually in a disturbingly totalitarian manner. My personal position on this, oddly, is much the same as my opposition to building the proposed Islamic Center, which will feature a mosque, so near to Ground Zero: I don't question Jones' right to burn the Qu'ran, he is on firm constitutional ground in so doing. Neither do I want to enact laws that restrain freedom as a result of this escapade. I just think it is unwise, deliberately inflammatory and unnecessarily divisive. In the case of Jones' proposed bonfire on inanity, I also think it objectively un-Christian on strictly scirptural grounds.

It is appropriate to end this post with words from our Lord, Jesus Christ, that can be applied to those who feel offended by Muslims, among whom I cannot be numbered:
"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you... If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same... Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful" (for the entire passage see Luke 6:27-36- ESV).

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't possibly agree with you more. Through the majority of Jesus' ministry, he focused on love of God, love of neighbor, and striving for unity. This despicable act serves no good purpose.

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