He denounced a local political candidate in Gainesville as unworthy of election because he was gay. He sent teens to school in T-shirts with the slogan “Islam is of the Devil.” He has decorated church property with similar signs. Now he wants to make a bonfire out of a book more than 1 billion Muslims revere as divine revelation to the Prophet Mohammed.
Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center is on a mission. According to his sermons and writings, he believes it is essential for Christians to take a stand against what he sees as violations of God’s law.
He says that Islam is “evil” and “the anti-Christ,” and that those who fight it are doing God’s work.
“The churches must stop hiding. We must stand up,” he says in a video statement on his website. He said Islam has a vision of world domination and unlimited financial resources “to make that vision become a reality.”
The book-burning protest, scheduled for Sept. 11, is designed to attract attention. Local officials and local religious leaders are now worried it is attracting too much attention, and the wrong kind of attention.
Gainesville police are working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to monitor threats and head off any attempts to retaliate against Dr. Jones and his Dove World church.
City officials have refused to issue a fire permit to Jones. He says the move is a violation of his free speech rights, and he insists that the book burning will take place anyway.
Counterprotests are planned across the street from the church during the burning. In addition, the Gainesville Interfaith Forum is organizing a “Gathering for Peace, Understanding, and Hope.” That event is set for Sept. 10, Friday night, and is open to Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and all others.
“The message I’m getting is that the vast, vast, vast majority of people believe that we can all get along,” says Dan Johnson, minister at Trinity United Methodist Church, where the gathering will be held. He said he’s receiving supportive e-mails from across the country.
Dr. Johnson said the centerpiece of the gathering will be loaves of bread from around the world.
The minister, whose church is a few blocks from the Dove World Outreach Center, said he’s been praying about whether to try to meet with Jones to encourage him to drop his planned book burning.
A few weeks ago, Jones called Johnson and members of the Trinity congregation “lily-livered Christians,” for failing to stand up to the threat of Islam.
The comments have made Johnson reluctant to meet Jones. “I just don’t have any sense that there is any point in it or that there is any common ground,” he said.
Nonetheless, Johnson said he is hopeful that Jones may change his mind and cancel the burning.
Jones has never backed away from a controversial cause, but until this summer he wasn’t widely known beyond Gainesville. What raised his profile was timing and the heated debate over the planned construction of an Islamic center near the former site of the World Trade Center in New York City. Jones rode a tide of anti-Muslim feeling into an international media spotlight hungry for a new twist on the story.
But it’s becoming more than just a debate or shouting match.
American military commanders in Afghanistan and the Middle East are warning that the controversy could greatly complicate efforts of US forces. Analysts say it threatens to establish a level of disrespect and distrust between Muslims and non-Muslims, potentially with violent results.
Rather than intelligent discourse, it has degenerated into an Internet-based shouting match complete with profanity, pornographic pictures, and photos of severed heads.
Among the more tame entries is this one: “So where do I get a free Koran. I want 2 do some light reading. I uhhh don’t want it 4 any another reason.”
And this: “If U R a pastor and a Christian, would Jesus do this?”
The group’s Facebook page has inspired a similar page in support of “International Burn a Bible Day.”