In an earlier post, I wrote on the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” issue, about the placement of a new Islamic cultural center a mere 600 feet from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. Essentially, I said that although I wished the center to be placed elsewhere, as an American I recognized that the Bill of Rights gives any religious organization the right to build wherever they have a legal right to do so. Now the shoe is on the other foot.
As reported in a story in today’s New York Times, a Christian pastor in Gainesville, Florida plans to commemorate the 9/11 attacks by holding “International Burn a Koran Day,” in which he plans to conduct a book burning to destroy copies of the holy book of Islam, the Koran.
Again, as an American, I recognize the constitutional right that this pastor has to say anything he wishes about Islam (which he clearly despises), and to conduct his bonfire. What I have to say below about this activity must not be construed as an attempt to limit this pastor’s rights, or to persecute his church.
Although I recognize this pastor’s rights to conduct his religious activities as he sees fit, I wish to express my unequivocal condemnation of the book burning that he has planned. The planned bonfire is an obscenity. I condemn the forthcoming bonfire on the grounds of both Christian values and American values.
I am a Christian (in particular, a Latter-day Saint).* Looking to Jesus as an example for the Christian faithful, I note that Jesus neither participated in nor condoned the burning of any literature at all. Even if one were to look at Muslims as enemies – a position that I find highly foolish – I would point out that Jesus said the following:
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven ...
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (The New Testament, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, chapter 5, verses 44-45, 48)
Book burning is an expression of hatred, not love or blessing or doing good. It is the sort of thing that the Nazis did. Book burning has a long and sordid history; it brings to mind images of the depths of the Inquisition, one of Christianity’s darkest hours. Is this what the pastor in Gainesville wishes to associate himself with?
In terms of American values, it is important to remember that the way we Americans best deal with differences is by debating them, not stifling one side of the debate. Book burning is unAmerican. We do have a history of religious discrimination; our history has seen riots against Catholics, discrimination against Jews and against Muslims, even the sending of troops against Mormons. However, these incidents showed America at its worst. We have become a strong country by respecting differences. As we seek to become a stronger country in the twenty-first century, we must do even more to respect differences and build a united America. Book burning is just the opposite of that.
As a Christian and as an American, I apologize to the Muslim world for the planned book burning in Gainesville. As an act of apology, between Sept. 11, 2010, and Sept. 11 2011, I shall read the entire Koran (in English translation). I shall be a faithful Christian—and I shall show my Christianity by seeking to better understand those who differ from me.
Mutual inter-religious respect is On The Mark.
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*(Yes, I am aware that there are those who do not consider the Latter-day Saints to be Christians. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, the official name of the Saints' religious organization is "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." The Saints pray, bless the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, anoint the sick, ordain their ministers, and baptize, all in the name of Jesus Christ. One of the scriptures that the Saints revere in addition to the Bible is The Book of Mormon, which is subtitled, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” Those who wish to consider this question further may consult these this video interview and this website.)
[The image of the cover of the Koran, or Quran, was created on 29 April 2005 by ~crystalina~ and obtained through Wikipedia. It is used here under the terms of the Creative Commons Attibution 2.0 Generic License.]
(Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)