Thoughts for Everyday Living

by the Rev. Dr. Edward Frost

Published 2010 April 22 under "Thoughts for Everyday Living" in the Times-Courier, the local newspaper based in Ellijay GA.

Deftly mixing metaphors within a single sentence, Terry Moore, pastor of the (fortunately) rapidly diminishing congregation of the "Dove World Outreach Center" in Gainesville, Florida, said recently, "It was intended to stir the pot, to shake the boat." "It" was a "trial" held in the church on March 20 with judge, jury, prosecutor and defense attorney – oh, and, of course, there was the accused, the Quran.

A "jury" was made up of a few of Moore's remaining parishioners supplemented by a few local Muslim haters. Judgment was swift. The "defense attorney," an Imam from Texas, called no witnesses. The convicted Quran was deemed clearly guilty of spreading violence, death, and terrorism. Shades of medieval "justice:" the condemned was publicly burned.

Within hours, violence broke out in Afghanistan in protest against the desecration of the Holy Book of Islam. As of this writing, nine people are known to be been killed and over 80 injured. Clearly expecting some repercussion, Moore asks, "Did our action provoke them? Of course. Is it a provocation that can be justified? Is it provocation that should lead to death?" It was a provocation the consequences of which were entirely predictable. Should it have led to deaths? Of what earthly difference does "should" make? Predictable effect followed deliberate cause. Moore is quoted as saying, "People have tried to make us responsible for the people who are killed. It's unfair and somewhat damaging." In response to a comment by a person he was interviewing, William F. Buckley once said, "I won't insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said."

Moore has stated that his mission is to spread the word that "Islam and the Quran are instruments of violence." No doubt there are references to violence in the Quran. Some misinterpret and misuse them as a rationale to violence. But millions of Muslims live and love peace as inspired by the book they revere as Holy.

Surely, "Pastor" Moore is aware of the slaughter and violence depicted, and even sanctioned, in parts of the Hebrew Testament. And, yes, the Bible has been misused to justify violence against "unbelievers." Why not burn it along with the Quran, since it has been so misused? But millions of Jews revere the Torah – the first five books of the Hebrew Testament – and millions of Christians and Jews are inspired to seek peace and justice by the Book they hold as the World of God.

Book burning is now, and has always been, an odious stunt – from the church in the middle ages out of its fear of "heresy" to the bonfires of the Nazis out of their fear of Truth – establishing nothing but the cowardice and mindless bigotry of the perpetrators. In this event, the burning of a book held sacred by people of the Islamic faith resulted in deaths and scores of injuries. And, yes, I, for one, hold Terry Moore and the "trial" he orchestrated to be responsible for that tragic outcome.

Then there is the despicable behavior of the members of The Westboro Baptist Church and their pastor, Fred Phelps (I doubt that many Baptists would claim them). These fanatics spew their fear and hatred of gay people by gathering near graveside Services for young soldiers killed in Afghanistan or Iraq. They wave their crude signs reading "God Hates Fags' and shout above the prayers and the cries of mourning families that God killed these young people in retribution of the sins of gays. The Supreme Court recently ruled that such obscene madness is protected by the first Amendment. The First Amendment is a necessary but double-edged sword.

Can any good come of such hate mongering in the guise of Christian faith? It is difficult to think how. Perhaps it is encouraging that it appears that many of Terry Moore's congregation have slipped away, belatedly recognizing that there is little, if anything, of the Christian message or the balm of religious community in the "Dove World Outreach Center." Moore has said that the people of Gainesville, Florida don't like him, and he is thinking of moving to Texas. Congratulations to the people of Gainesville, and woe unto the people of Texas.

Cults the like of Westboro Baptist "Church," the "Dove World Outreach Center" and their self-aggrandizing leaders demonstrate the danger of religion gone awry and ignorance and bigotry writ large. Perhaps the enormity of their deviance from any semblance of love and grace could lead others to examine their own religious lives, the message of their religious community, and the part they play in assuring that their religion actually does reach out to the world with love and compassion. If what you are hearing is bigotry and enmity toward the faith of others, you are in the wrong pew