There has been a lot of discussion as of late about a Florida pastor who desires to burn the Q’ran (some also write it: Koran) on September 11th in protest of the Muslims who were responsible for the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and on the Pentagon in 2001. Such has caused a great deal of stir in the news and in churches and this pastor has received pleas not only from political leaders but from religious leaders as well to cease his activity as it would be offensive to many worldwide. The pastor has chosen to back down and cancel his event, but as I have watched this play out, several thoughts have come to mind regarding the principles surrounding the whole debate.
I must confess, my first instinct was just to chuckle, wondering why the whole world, it seemed, was interested in the activities of a small church pastor down in Florida. My second instinct was to think, if I really wanted to make a point about false religions, why not be an equal-opportunity offender and burn copies of the Book of Mormon, the Bhagavad Gita, the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, Barak Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and anything by Joel Osteen. I even thought that we could make it a group participation event and rather than burning them, set them on a large stand and let everyone from church bring their guns for target practice.
As entertaining as such an event might sound, it wasn’t long before God’s word sobered me a little bit. Indeed, we are called to tear down the strongholds of the devil (Matthew 16:18; 2 Corinthians 10:4), yet at the same time we are to do so with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). Indeed, we are to be well thought of by the unbelievers around us (1 Timothy 3:7). The principle is simple: if the world considers us a bunch of backwoods radicals, they won’t be interested in the message of truth we bring. If we earn their respect with integrity, then they will listen (though whether they respond savingly is a work of the Holy Spirit).
So, what then ought to be our response to this pastor’s call to burn the Q’ran on the memorial of September 11th, 2001? To begin with, we ought not participate ourselves in such actions as they are not consistent with the Scripture’s own teaching in the area. Should we then forbid him? Such is a different matter altogether. In terms of whether or not to forbid his action, the question needs to be raised as to whether his action is legal or not. If it is legal, then why all of the fuss? If it is not legal, arrest or fine him if he does it and again, why all the fuss? The point is that we live in a nation governed by the rule of law. Some, including myself, have argued that this is changing in American culture at least on a philosophical level, but for most of us, the law still very much governs our lives on a practical level. We have to pay taxes, drive the speed limit, and avoid stealing things if we want to stay out of jail. It is as simple as that. And currently, the First Amendment to our Constitution allows this man the freedom of expression, thus whether we may consider it wise or unwise, it is legal.
Now, it should be noted that there are times when complete freedom of speech is not legal. For example, it is not legal to yell, “fire!” in a movie theater. Some have suggested that this falls into that category given that we are currently at war within several Muslim nations. Yet, my suggestion is that we have a different situation at hand. The case of yelling fire in a movie theater is an intentional act of creating fear and confusion that will likely get people killed or injured. We are already at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, things are likely not going to get worse because of a local book burning.
What I find most alarming about the entire event is the contrast between these events and the events of 1988 surrounding the publication of Salman Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses, where Rushdie addressed several verses in the Q’ran which allowed the Muslims to make intercessory prayers to three Meccan goddesses. As a result of this publication, a “fatwa” was declared by several Islamic leaders calling on all “good Muslims” to kill Rushdie. Not only did the western governments put Rushdie into protection, but the Muslims who were calling for fatwa were denounced and condemned as radicals and told to cease and desist their actions. In 2007, Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist, published several drawings depicting Mohammed as a dog. Again, people were in an uproar, several attempts to execute Vilks were made and prosecuted, and the Muslims were chided for their intolerance.
Yet, now, it seems that things have changed in our attitude toward Muslims. While it is common to publish things that mock Christianity, those things designed to mock Islam are shunned. This is where, I believe, we need to raise concerns. One of the things that my father impressed on me was that no matter how big the bully was, you do not compromise doing what is right. As Europe drew closer to its Second World War, there were many who desired to appease Hitler in the hopes that he would fade away and leave them alone. Winston Churchill had a different view, though. He defined an “appeaser” as someone who “feeds his neighbor to the crocodile hoping that the crocodile will eat him last.” I fear that the path we are on is one of feeding others to the crocodile of Islam.
A final thought and a solution: the primary reason that Muslims (as with other immigrants) are coming to America is for economic freedom. Though we are in a recession, one can still raise one’s own standard of living through hard work and persistence. And even the most modest standard of living here is worlds better than what most people in most of the world have to endure…we have running water, electricity, and air conditioning, just to start naming things! As Christians, we ought to use that to our advantage. Instead of fearing Muslims who are coming into our community, let us welcome them and then evangelize them. Can you imagine what our culture would look like if our evangelistic witness was so strong that the majority of people coming from the Arab countries were converted to Christianity. If such were the case, then we would be saying, “send us more!” rather than being worried about them sending any at all.