The Ballad of Terry Jones
The church bulletin from the Dove World Outreach Center last Sunday might have read, "Please join us this Saturday on the Church front lawn for the first annual 'International Burn a Koran Day,'" just after the prayer list and above the announcement for the mens' prayer breakfast and the bake sale. The Dove World Outreach Center is a small non-denominational charismatic church of about 50 members located in Gainesville Florida. Though his congregation is small, that doesn't stop Terry Jones from having big aspirations. See Wikipedia - Dove World Outreach Center. Terry became pastor of the church there in 2001. He formed a little school where students work in the church's vintage furniture business for almost nothing. Students there are discouraged from contacting their families even to attend weddings or funerals.
In 2009 Terry began his anti-Islam sign campaign on the church lawn. He painted his first sign with big red letters, "Islam is of the devil." See Gainesville Sun - sign 1. Next, quoting from the Koran, he wrote, "Koran 9:5 Kill the disbelievers wherever you find them." See Gainesville Sun - sign 2. He concluded the church lawn sign campaign with a sign picturing a Muslim man hanging a Christian. Just when the people of Gainesville thought he was finished, he had church members send their children to school wearing t-shirts with, "Islam is of the Devil" written on the back. See Gainesville Sun - t-shirts. In 2010, he published a book titled, you guessed it, "Islam is of the Devil." He sold it at www.islamisofthedevil.com for awhile and had a blog until those sites stopped working. His Facebook page titled, "International Burn a Koran Day" is still up and running.
Before pastoring the Dove World Outreach Center, Terry Jones founded and "pastored" a congregation in Cologne Germany. That ended badly when the congregation ousted him amid allegations of financial irregularities and personality clashes. Niels Sorrells from Berlin Germany wrote that members accused Terry Jones of being violent and fanatical. They said he ran the Cologne church like a sect and used psychological pressure on members to subordinate their activities to his will. Someone else described Terry Jones as someone who didn't project Christian values and always made himself the center of everything. See Pastor's former German Church denounces him. He continues to set himself front and center. He is the real center of his planned Koran burning. Terry, please step out of the way. I can't see Christ.
And then there's Gainesville
The Dove World Outreach Center is located in Gainesville Florida. I'm sure Gainesville isn't perfect but it does have a lot of things going for it. It's home to Florida University, one of the largest universities in the country and considered a public ivy school. Gainesville has a population of 258,555 according to 2008 Census Bureau estimates but may have contracted recently. It was ranked as one of the "best places to live and play" in 2007 by National Geographic Adventure.
When Terry Jones made signs telling us who to hate and be afraid of, religions leaders of all faiths in the Gainesville area founded the Gainesville Interfaith Forum to "demonstrate the strength of a shared community acoss faith groups." They plan to present regular programs to the community in the hope of increasing "understanding and appreciation of each other and build bridges between our communities of respect and friendship." See Gainesville Interfaith Forum. The first meeting is scheduled to take place at Congregation B'nai Israel. Think of that. The first meeting is being hosted in a Jewish synagogue in response to fanatical hatred against Muslims and the Koran.
Gainesville represents a more accurate portrait of America than Terry Jones or the Dove World Outreach Center. It's a place where you can get a quality education, enjoy nature, raise a family, and choose among many churches that don't preach hate. Sadly, many Muslims overseas won't see that. The Gainesville Interfaith Forum is an inspiring example of leadership in response to home grown extremism. They won't hear much about that either. Come to think of it, why don't I hear more about that than the obsessed narcissistic hate spewing man? Please stop stirring him up. He won't go away but maybe we can look at Gainesville and see something of who we are. That might make it easier to ignore the noise.
My time in a Sect
After my first year at Rhema Bible Training Center in Broken Arrow Oklahoma in 1980, I got involved in a church with a charismatic leader who had a "special" revelation. He was inspiring to listen to. He had a school that I attended. He discouraged his students from contacting their families even for weddings and funerals. He was as controlling as Koran burning Terry Jones.
I was 19. My faith had seemed to lead me there somehow and I went along with everything. My healthy middle class family had just accepted my choice to attend Rhema. They were even less prepared to mentally process my involvement with "The Church at Tulsa." Gradually, I felt more uncomfortable and increasingly isolated from my family. " Finally, I even felt isolated from others in the congregation. Others felt the same way. I remember a day when a fear seemed to descend on our congregation and roll over everyone like waves. After that, a large number of members left. The fear and isolation grew worse for the ones who stayed. I also left after two years there. It goes to show you there are others out there in the mold of Terry Jones. It's difficult to understand how someone can influence a whole congregation like that. It's hard to leave and they can do you a lot of harm.
In my opinion, people like Terry Jones are an even greater threat to us than the violence of fringe Muslims because they have the power to distort minds. Second to them, I fear the fringe Muslim extremists who only have the power to harm our bodies. I'm at peace in the Episcopal Church now after a long journey. Do I hate Christians because of what happened to me? No. Do I hate the Muslims next door for what fringe Muslim extremists did to us on 9/11/2001? No, I don't hate them either.
Rules of Rigid Association
There are some in the press who make rules of rigid association. At least that's what I call it. It's like someone associating 9/11 with fear, fighting the terrorists, the Koran, and Muslims. They make rigid associations that don't necessarily go together. Most of the terrorists were Muslims who read the Koran. However, there are millions of Muslims reading the Koran who don't pursue a path of radical hatred. Therefore, associating 9/11 with Muslims and the Koran is not a necessary association.
Associating 9/11 with radical extremism would be more accurate and productive. However, they hold their unnecessary associations to be self evident. If you don't see life through their associations you are not on their side, the side of America, the side of the troops, or the side of freedom. They are rule-making rigidonians. Neanderthals who like action more than thinking and don't associate the two very closely.
For another example. You associate "666" with an evil number representing the Antichrist. Is that association so rigid that you can't sing hymn 666 in the hymnal or can't read page 666 in your Bible? If so, your association is too rigid. Someone might make a rule that if you do sing hymn 666, you are a friend of the Antichrist. Rules of rigid associations may someday be known as the O'Reilly Factor.
Tomorrow is my nephew's birthday. That's right. He was born on 9/11. He's five and a lot of fun. I'm going to have to associate 9/11 with the joy of his birth from now on and not just with tragedy. I guess that's moving on. Will I forget 9/11? No, but I will let something else in today. We can't always live by rules of rigid association. Life keeps happening.