Pastor Jones has never read the Qur’an. Yet he owns two hundred of them. Instead of reading one he plans to desecrate this holy text by burning all two hundred. This is a defining moment for Americans and our unique heritage of freedom to worship as we choose.
As a Christian I am as offended by the thought of anyone burning the Bible I cherish as I am by burning the sacred text of any other religion. Yes, I glean wisdom and truth from the texts of my Jewish, Muslim and Hindu friends. Their sacred books may not be primary to my spiritual path but in them I discover something of the Holy who existed before religion. The planned public burning of the Qur’an is an act of violence and hate as much as denigrating and dismissing all Muslims.
The Vatican has called the planned burning an “outrageous and grave gesture.” On September 7th leaders representing a broad spectrum of faith traditions denounced the growing anti-Islamic sentiments in the United States. Islamophobia has been expressed across the country in response to the building or expansion of mosques in New York City, Texas, California and Tennessee generating vandalism, emotionally charged debate and hate-filled placards.
The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religious worship – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This freedom to worship as we choose has brought immigrants escaping religious persecution to our shores. It is a defining mark of what it means to be an American.
In our history we have been challenged by the promise of the First Amendment is ugly prejudice against Catholics and Mormons among others. The guarantee of the First Amendment ultimately prevailed in each instance.
In a world of instant information in which the US is fighting wars against terrorists who have violently hijacked Islam, the words and actions associated with the debate about Islam in the US are no longer just a US conversation but a global one. The urgency with which we respond to reaffirming the free exercise of religion reflects the values and soul of who we are as Americans. Our reaffirmation of the First Amendment, or our hesitancy to do so, will leave an indelible mark about whether we can walk the talk at home while trying to exercise global leadership.
This defining moment for America is also a moment of truth telling for people of faith. Pastor Jones’ church in Gainesville Florida is ironically named “Dove World Outreach Center.” The refusal to read the Qur’an and burn it is a curious interpretation of “world outreach.” By contrast the Massachusetts Bible Society is giving away two Qur’ans for every one that is burned. Complementing the inter-faith dialog in many places around the country, Spirituality and Practice offers an online introduction to the Qur’an for Muslims and non-Muslims. This is outreach.
The symbol of the dove is a sign of peace, peace-making and hope. In the Hebrew tradition of his time Jesus understood peace as working for social, economic and political relationships which work to ensure the well-being of all. Jesus referred to the peacemakers as “blessed.” The symbol of the dove is not about burning or destroying. It is a path of engagement inviting inter-action, understanding and tolerance.
The burning of Qur’ans on September 11th is against the backdrop of the Jewish observance of Rosh Hashanah and the Muslim festivities of Eid. For Jews, Rosh Hashanah celebrates personal and global renewal as much as a time of new beginnings. For Muslims, Eid marks the end of Ramadan, a time of lengthy fasting in which believers are expected to engage in works of peace and charitable giving. The three days of festivities that begin on September 10th this year celebrate the spiritual renewal that occurs during the fasting of Ramadan.
What is there to glean from the observance of these Jewish and Muslim holidays? They both point to the need for renewal in our personal and public lives. The work of peace-making invites dialog and understanding. The fear of the “other” begins to diminish as tolerance and appreciation grow. New beginnings are possible.
It is a very different path than burning sacred texts and protesting with ill-informed placards proclaiming that Islam equals Al Qaeda. Peace and the renewal of the world are central themes in the Abrahamic traditions shared by Jews, Muslims and Christians. Each tradition believes that love is more powerful than hate. It is a defining moment for reaffirming the First Amendment and for the pursuit of peace-making.
It is not a time to be silent or to sit this one out. Our responses will shape our understanding of what it means to be an American.
Post your comments below