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Denouncing the fires of intolerance

Area clergy decry Florida pastor's plan to burn Quran

September 08, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — Several local church leaders condemned the plan of a Florida pastor to burn a pile of Qurans to commemorate Sept. 11.

"I think it's fighting fire with fire, almost like an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth spirit, not reflecting Christianity," said Rev. Gary George of the evangelical Grace Sovereign Church. "The spirit behind it is not one I'm in favor of; it's militancy in a deviant form."

The issue is one that has gone viral on the Internet ever since Rev. Terry Jones of the ironically named Dove World Outreach Center started urging people to burn the Muslim holy book this weekend, the ninth anniversary of the World Trade Center attack. Among the kinder things the group's website has to say about Islam — a faith held by more than a billion people — is that it is "of the devil."

That perspective dates back to the Middle Ages, when Christian Europe clashed repeatedly with Muslim realms in the Middle East and North Africa. In both areas, religion was the cornerstone of society, but historians widely recognize that the Muslim world at that time was far ahead of Europe in science, mathematics, art and other cultural traits.

Although the Dove website claims non-Muslims "receive persecution, discrimination [and] are forced to convert" if Muslims take over, history shows that's not true as a rule. Instead, Islam teaches that Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians fall into a special, protected category as "People of the Book," under which they were generally allowed to practice their faiths unhindered provided they paid a poll tax Muslims were not subject to. At times of social stress, there certainly were rulers who imposed more stringent demands on non-Muslim citizens, but similar examples exist of Christian rulers discriminating against Muslims, Jews and other Christians.

Even today, many of the nearly 50 Muslim-majority countries have a significant number of citizens of other religions. Several are practicing democracies, and several have specifically defined their government as secular rather than making Islam the state religion.

To Rev. Paul Chicoine, pastor of First Methodist Church in both Southbridge and Spencer, history and theology show "a lot of places we can work together" with Muslims, especially since there are numerous overlapping ideas in the Bible and Quran. The current situation, he said, creates an opportunity for relationship building, but allowing "radicals" like Jones to control the issue risks destroying relationships that do exist between the faiths.

"Burning the Quran — I would equate that to burning the Bible," Chicoine said, later noting he thinks such acts are often fueled by the proponent's mixture of odd scriptural interpretation and negative life experience.

A similar view was one of the reasons Rev. Peter Preble, pastor of St. Michael's Romanian Orthodox Church, felt he had to speak up. He said he saw Jones speak online and on cable, but "Nobody from the Christian side condemned this person for doing that."

"We're called to love everybody, and this action by this particular minister is fueled by hate," Preble said, noting burning Qurans is most likely to "incite a riot" and pose a long-term danger to Americans in the Middle East.

See Thursday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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