Posted by: Harold Knight | 09/08/2010

The Johnny-Come-Lately’s rush in where the “reverend” Terry Jones has no reason to fear to tread

(In which I wax nearly as uncivil as I accuse some others of waxing. Forgive me.)

The sudden interest of government and religious leaders in preventing a despicable political act by a self-proclaimed christian leader would be, were it not so tragic, comical. It is at the very least bizarre, a desperate attempt by the political world and pusillanimous religious leaders to exert “damage control.”

No one with any sense would argue with Gen. David Petraeus’ assertion a few days ago that the plan of the self-described “reverend” of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, to mount a spectacular burning of the Koran will put US troops in harm’s way.

No one with any sense would argue with the statement of  Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the archbishop emeritus of Washington that, “Religious leaders cannot stand by in silence when things like this are happening.”

No christian with any sense would argue with the statement of Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good and a former lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, that the “reverend’s”  plan will “bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ.”

The problem is not that the actions of the “reverend” Jones will put American troops in danger (although it is most likely appallingly true). The problem is not that his actions are, “From a Christian perspective. . . .not what we stand for. This is a fringe group of individuals,” as Rev. Gerald Durley, pastor at Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta said at the same press conference.

The problem is that, by their silence, these “religious” leaders, and political leaders such as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have tacitly approved of the vicious and virulent anti-Islam fervor that has gripped the United States for the last few years, and which is growing exponentially. The “reverend” Jones would not have had any following if these people had—before it became politically expedient and militarily necessary—spoken out against the hatred and bigotry running rampant in the United States (and in Western Europe).

Suddenly, one insignificant and hateful little man has managed to focus American attention on the reality that the actions of the United States—whether governmental or private (think Blackwater)—do have an impact on the perceptions of the rest of the world about our nation. The overweening pride and the absolute conviction that our interests are god’s interests, and that god’s interests are best served by globalized capitalism running roughshod over the rest of the world, its way prepared by U.S. military might, have finally been demonstrated in the actions of one insignificant and hateful little group of people.

It’s about time.

But it’s too little too late as the cliché says.

The problem is that the rush to judgment against Jones is drawing more attention to his absurdity than leaving him alone might have:  Don’t respond to the stupidity of a fool, you’ll only look foolish yourself.  Answer a fool in simple terms so he doesn’t get a swelled head. (Proverbs 26:4-5, Eugene H. Peterson translation).

Both Jones’s original idiocy and the reaction of the political and religious leaders are politically motivated. Ingeborg Gabriel asserts that,

Muslim mullahs and Catholic, Orthodox, and other clergy, as well as Buddhist monks are nowadays a familiar sight on television. They do not appear in public because of their spiritual function (in which case they would remain fairly invisible) but because they promote political causes. That this is no longer surprising demonstrates the degree to which we have become accustomed to religions’ being politically mobilizing forces. (1)

In kowtowing to what both political and religious leaders perceive as some powerful “conservative” trend in politics, to the influence of the Tea Baggers and other such reactionary forces, leaders have abdicated their responsibility to lead. To try to give predominance to the best in the populace rather than the worst. To lead into graciousness, generosity, and the rights of all people to our understanding of “life, liberty, and the pursuit” of happiness. What our political, and especially our religious leaders have failed to understand is that

Fundamentalism is not conservative. Rather, it is highly innovative—even heretical—because it always develops in response to a perceived crisis. In their anxiety, some fundamentalists distort the tradition they are trying to defend. (2)

In the name of “conservatism” our leaders (AND WE AS A NATION) have allowed—no, have been complicit with—“heretical” understandings and “distortions” of the religious and political beliefs we hold most dear.

It is now too late to try to prevent Jones from his idiocy. Even if he relents, the tragic harm is done. It will take leadership that we most likely do not have to put our nation (especially our religious traditions) back on track.
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(1) Gabriel, Ingeborg. “Like rosewater: reflections on interreligious dialogue.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 45.1 (2010): 1+.
(2) Armstrong, Karen. “God: as casualties from the world’s religious wars mount, God is getting a bad reputation. But the war against God has had its casualties as well. Here’s why we need a truce–and why secularism is almost as much of a threat to the world as fundamentalism.” Foreign Policy 175 (2009): 54+.

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