Ocala pastor Terry Jones put the Koran on trial last month and sentenced it to be burned inside his Florida church.
In doing so, he accomplished an incredible thing: In a day when politicians can’t even agree on a budget, his actions miraculously have galvanized both sides of the political aisle.
But, not in a good way.
For instance, President Barack Obama called the burning an “act of extreme intolerance and bigotry.”
Before the burning, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin tweeted, “Koran Burning Is Insensitive, Unnecessary; Pastor Jones, Please Stand Down.”
Ironically, even evangelist Pat Robertson asked his audience to “Imagine a preacher that is so egotistical that he would sacrifice the lives of missionaries and soldiers.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., best summarized the thinking when he said, “I think people should understand the consequences of what they do under the guise of religion.”
The consequences have been the deadly protests in Afghanistan that claimed 12 lives with scores injured.
Minus the politically correct language, the politicians simply are saying Jones is a real kook. Of course, when I say kook, I mean it in a theological way.
Honestly, it’s not particularly brave of me or anyone else to challenge hateful prejudice as glaringly obvious as Jones’ actions. What is hard, and what is brave, is to oppose the hate and prejudice we encounter in everyday living.
For instance, what do you say when someone you respect says something that doesn’t sound quite right? Perhaps a co-worker whispers a prejudicial word about cultural dress in the office or a relative or a friend attacks another person for their religious or political beliefs. What do you say then?
I ask the questions because I have to believe Jones’ hate had a simple beginning.
For example, I can imagine a few scenarios in Jones’ past where, thinking he was among friends, he mouthed off in some hateful way. Perhaps it first occurred in a neighbor’s home or at a community clergy breakfast or city council meeting.
If so, why didn’t anyone say, “Dude, you’ve spent way too long in the Florida sun.” Or “Hey pastor, really? That doesn’t ring quite true.”
I know what you’re thinking. It’s scary because you don’t know if anyone is going to back you up.
The result is you remain silent.
The price of calling someone out can be high. But we also know the price grows exponentially when someone like Jones encounters not a single word of resistance.
I can imagine these situations, because I’ve been privy to such conversations, at a neighbor’s house and at a clergy breakfast, when someone said something that bordered on bigotry or prejudice. I know, because I, too, have taken a sudden and silent interest in my shoes.
When the 18th century Irish orator, philosopher and politician Edmund Burke said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
I think he was talking about our silence. Today, in the 21st century, we excuse our silence because we don’t want to be too judgmental. Yet our silence has become the fertilizer for the seeds of hate to grow unabated.
In the future, I’d encourage Jones and his followers to refrain from burning the holy books of other religions and uncover the burning love promoted in Ephesians 4:29, which says: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”