A small, 50-member church in Gainesville, Florida is receiving worldwide attention with its announced plan to burn hundreds of Korans on September 11th. In a televised interview, the pastor was asked if he believed Jesus would burn Korans if he were alive today. Without hesitation, the pastor said, “Yes.”
But he is wrong. Every occasion when Jesus had the opportunity to return evil with evil, he refused to do so. When Peter summarized the life of Jesus he said plainly, “When he was abused, he did not return abuse.” (1 Peter 2:23). There is not one verse in any Gospel account to substantiate the plans of this congregation. In fact, the opposite is the case.
Jesus taught that when we are struck on one cheek, we are to turn the other and take a second blow. He taught us that we are to love our enemies and pray for them. Indeed, we are to pray for everyone who seeks to spitefully use us.
Morever, when the apostles wanted to rain down fire on some of Jesus’ opponents, he refused to entertain the idea. In the Garden of Gethsemani, when Peter cut off the High Priest’s slave’s ear with his sword, Jesus put the ear back on and rebuked Peter, telling him, “If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword.” A few hours later, as he faced the lies and violence of religious leaders and crowds, he remained silent. And finally, from the Cross, he looked into the faces of those who would settle for nothing less than his death, and he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
We cannot use Jesus to condone any violent response to violence. On the contrary, we are not permitted in the New Testament to frame any protest in a way that violates the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) We are never allowed to ignore or contradict these characteristics. When we do, we depart from Jesus himself, from the earliest Christians (who were stoned, burned at the stake, and sawn in two—Hebrews 11), and from the Christians in ensuing centuries who were persecuted in unbelievable ways.
There is an un-christian”anger” boiling today in people who claim to be Christ’s followers. It is being expressed through both political and religious processes. But it only belies and undermines the essence of our faith, and makes us no better, and perhaps even worse, than those we oppose. We cannot do this. If we do not wake up, see the errors of our ways, and repent, history will look back on us and record that the greatest irony of all was that Christians were their own worst enemies—that we were the chief contributors to our own downfall. We cannot do this.
That pastor in Ocala is wrong in another way, too. The maniacs who committed the attacks on 9/11 are no more represented by the holy Koran any more than the Ku Klux Klan is represented by the Bible. Not only is he acting out of anger and violence, but sheer ignorance, too.