Wednesday, September 08, 2010

on burning sacred texts

The news in last few days has focused largely on Dove World Outreach Center's plans (DWOC; sorry, but I won't link to them here) to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the events of September 11, 2001. This small and inflammatory (no pun intended) congregation has become such a topic of conversation that as of now their name generates nearly 3,400 hits on Google News. I suspect this story provides a comforting balance to the loudly debated mosque planned for Ground Zero. In the interest of full disclosure I should point out that I'm against both, and largely for the same reasons.

But the question I want to raise is, How would Jesus respond to DWOC's plans to burn Islam's sacred text? More full disclosure: My answer to this question is, of course, my answer and not really "what Jesus would do." Far be it from me to claim to speak for Jesus. Now let me sit in my special Holy Spirit chair and utter the words of the Lord . . .

At the heart of the Christian gospel is the story of a God who (i) created the universe and all that inhabits it by the word of his mouth and declared his creation good, and who (ii) found himself spurned by his creation in favor of lesser lights. Paul referred to this situation in terms of "exchange": an exchange of God's incorruptible glory for the likeness of perishable beings, of the truth of God for a lie, of the praise and worship of the creator for the created (see Rom. 1.23–25).

And how did the creator God respond to this affront? Did he defend his honor by condemning the shameful? Sometimes, but not ultimately. Did he defend his righteousness by condemning the wicked? Sometimes, but not ultimately. Did he uphold the truth by destroying the liars? Sometimes, but not ultimately.

The Christian gospel insists that God took a stand for honor, righteousness, and truth not by stamping on and stamping out their opposites but by allowing wicked humanity to nail him to a dead tree and hide him in a dank grave. God identified with the shameful, the wicked, and the liars in order to transform them from within. He did not defend the abstract concepts honor, righteousness, and truth but sought to bring those concepts to fruition in the lives of the very people who made themselves enemies of God. Again, Paul speaks eloquently here: "For Christ, even while we were weak, while the time was right, died for the ungodly. . . . God made his own love for us evident, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 9.6, 8). God identified with the evil he sought to condemn in order to redeem the people who found themselves enslaved by evil's tyranny.

So how would this God respond to DWOC's plans to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday? I can't help but think this God would set copies of the Bible on fire. Not because the Bible is evil (again, Paul: "May it never be!"), and not because the Quran is worth defending. But despite all the charges the Christian gospel would level against the errors of Islam, the Christian God longs for, yearns for, even dies for the redemption of Muslims. This God doesn't incite the hatred of wicked humanity; rather, he invites wicked humanity to spend its hatred on his flesh. He condemns our wickedness in his own body. And he restores our broken relationship with him by washing us in his own blood. This God invites us to spend and expend our hatred on him so that we may witness our hatred overcome. This time John's words come to mind: "We love [God] because he first loved us" (1 John 4.19).

I think if we were to see Bibles instead of Qurans put to the flame, we would see the kingdom of God arising from the smoldering pages. Because that's how our God reigns: Not by out-persecuting his enemies but out-perservering them. His honor swallowed up our shame. His righteousness swallowed up our wickedness. His truth swallowed up our lies.

Shame on you, DWOC, for missing all of this.


Kerri said...

Thank you so much for sharing. I couldn't help but feeling much the same way upon seeing this news story; however, you probably stated it better than I could have. I am currently reading Jesus Loves You this I know by Craig Gross. In the chapter I just finished, he talked about how he could not imagine the Jesus of the gospel picketing or protesting, but rather coming along side people and simply loving them. It was a beautiful reminder of the amazing God we serve.

Rachel said...

Excellent post. Very well written. Dare I say, "Amen."

James F. McGrath said...

I'm hoping that a lot of Christians can get behind the idea of having a "Read the Qur'an Day" as an alternative to "Burn the Qur'an Day." This seems like it could be a good way to acknowledge the free speech of others, while using our freedom to say something very different.

I'd encourage even those who strongly disagree with things they read in the Qur'an to participate. It isn't "Read and agree with everything you read" day but "Reading and disagreeing is better than burning" day.

I've also set up a Facebook event for this, to make it easier to spread the word.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

Well put. Your point is all the more valid because the entire Quran-burning thing is a shameless publicity stunt that will do nothing but burnish the perversely earned credentials of the pastor and the church who do the burning.

My Visual Bookshelf