Terry Jones, Damned Heretic, Has a Right to Be Wrong

The United States of America, founded by religious dissenters, from Puritans and Quakers, to Roman Catholics and Baptists, has as one of its basic principles that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.” Of course, law is made in many ways, only one of which is legislative. There are judicially created laws, like the ones giving Presidents the right to invoke “state secrets” to nullify the Bill of Rights in national security interests. There are signing statements, which Presidents may employ to defy the will of Congress. There are Executive Orders, which Presidents issue to make their own laws, as President Obama did, following the passage of the health care reform, forbidding the use of federal funds for women seeking abortions under the new law. But there are more subtle forms of law, such as when the government tries to use its bully pulpit to sway public opinion on a given issue. That’s happened recently, when leading members of the Administration, from the Attorney General, the Secretary of State and the general prosecuting the war in Afghanistan issued harsh condemnations against a Florida Pentecostal pastor who is planning to burn a pile of Qur’ans on September 11.

That last–the law of polemic–creates a mob, ruled only by the twin demons of demogoguery and propaganda. It is quite effective, since it appeals to the angels of our lesser nature, and it is the enemy of republican ideals.

The fact of the matter is that our nation is in dire straits, broke, rudderless and desperate. The throngs that surrounded Candidate Obama have been replaced by snarling Tea Parties clamoring for their country back. The rise of the Anti-Obama Messiahs, led by the likes of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, and supported by an assortment of blame-the-immigrants-first media outlets, is sign of how bad things are. Light on policy and heavy on emotion, they are made-to-order strongmen (and women) for a country cracking up on the rocks.

And the Administration has played right into their hands. Barack Obama has kept the worst of George Bush’s security state policies in place, from extraordinary rendition to warrantless wiretaps of Americans’ private communications, all in the name of the endless and meaningless “war on terror.” And now, the Administration has unleashed its most capable attack dogs on a religious group engaged in a stupid act of political theater masquerading as prophetic witness. 

The right of the Reverend Terry Jones and his silly band of holy warriors at the Dove Outreach Center to burn the Muslim holy book is, however distasteful, protected under the First Amendment. It is un-Christian, uncharitable, disgusting and needlessly provocative. It is not, however, un-American. It is protected speech and protected religion. It is within my right, as a fellow Christian minister, to tell Jones that such actions make him fit only for the Hell he dreams of for Muslims. It is not the right of the United States Government to say that. 

This is our fight, the fight of those who understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be the salvation and healing of the world against those who want to twist it into some narrow, vile and hateful cult. Terry Jones has dishonored the Name of Christ and the Cross on which he was murdered.

But in the United States of America, he has the right to be a false Christian, and the United States Government should leave him alone. The Church has a way of discipline for heretics like Terry Jones: they are cast outside the communion of saints until they seek forgiveness of their error from those they have wronged. Which in this case, is the Muslim community here and abroad and the entire Christian Church.

So, I must defend the right of Terry Jones to be a damned heretic, as I defended the right of the Muslim communities in Lower Manhattan to build their new community center. Those brave men and women, living and dead, who fought for those rights must not have died in vain.

11 thoughts on “Terry Jones, Damned Heretic, Has a Right to Be Wrong

  1. See PP5: Again, you've spoken the Truth as Truth! The U.S. Government does not have the right to stop Jones' quest to burn holy books. But you, as a minister of Jesus Christ, do have the authority to expose and condemn his actions with the most powerful results possible to stop him. Go get 'em, Tiger! “Little Lion of God!” :)) BTW, “a false Christian” is a hypocrite, isn't he/she?? Jesus condemned those Himself! 🙂 See Matthew….:)


  2. Hold it a sec. The US gov. has not stopped him from burning the Qu'ran. Various members of the federal government have said it is a bad idea, but none have taken steps to stop Mr. Jones from carrying out his intent. Pres. Obama has appealed to him not to do so, on the grounds that this country was built on religious tolerance; he has not sent the national guard to stop him, nor has he called upon any group of citizens to unite to stop him. Mr. Obama, Ms. Clinton, Gen. Petreaus et. al. have the right to speak their mind. I have not heard any of them using phraseology that would incite violence. Others may call on them to stop this burning. That they must refrain from doing.


  3. Deacon Tim:

    I have allways been a strong believer, (almost absolutist) in the First Amendment, Burning our country's flag is a horrible act that should be abhored by Americans and non Americans BUT it is protected by the Constitution. However in this case the phrases “Shouting fire in a crowded theater” and “Clear and present danger.” keep popping into my head – Greg in San Francisco


  4. Deacon Tim,

    I agree with you much of the time, but on this point my opinion diverges from yours. The 1st Amendment guarantees free speech, but not unregulated speech. There are plenty of types of speech that can be regulated through time/place restrictions or when comepelling interests call, content restrictions.

    I am not a fan of the restrictions, but I do have to concede that yelling fire in a theatre or fighting words/words or acts that incite violence are not protected speech.

    I do believe that burning of the Quran amounts to fighting words. If I saw a Muslim group burning an effigy of Jesus, despite my Christian calling I may in fact be incited to do something regretful.

    With that being said, so far the government has not actually taken ANY action. The mere appeal of those in power to reconsider a decision does not amount to government action. No law has been passed, no resolution voted on, no police power has been exercised to stop Terry Jones from carrying out his book burning. Rather, there has been an open dialogue amongst leaders as to their belief about the proposed plan and its consequences. I think this is how government ought to work! I applaud the gathering together of leaders to publicly condemn this action. If our leaders were to stay silent, would they not earn our contempt for their failure to lead on this issue?

    I agree that Terry Jones has the protected right to burn the Quran. I think the fact that he has that right will tick off even moderate Muslims. I don't think the government has done anything to interfere in that right. So far, our leaders have only questioned the wisdom of that activity and I think that is the right move.


  5. BTW, Tim, Damned?? I think God is searching for him as hard as the woman with the missing silver coin searched for it. He will not stop until He has found him, and then there will be rejoicing!


  6. Karen, thanks for your thoughts. As to whether the Government overstepped the line in forbidding the free exercise of religion, I think that an FBI visit, a phone call from the Secretary of Defense, impassioned speeches by the Secretary of State and others, not to mention a speech by the President himself, were over the line. In our desire to defend the rights of one religion, we must not trample those of others. Let me explain about my use of the term “damned.” I used it in the sense of lost, separated, gone astray–like all we sheep or coins.

    This does not mean that Jones (or anyone else) is eternally damned–the Always Searching One does not give up on any lost soul. The redemptive love of the Cross is all powerful. But one may choose to inhabit a prison of one's own device, chaining oneself in with hate. Terry Jones will stay in his Hell until he decides to open the door–it's not locked. The love of God is there, for him, for me, for all of us.

    My post was meant to illustrate how Church discipline functions, as opposed to the law of the state. St. Paul says that church discipline is administered, “so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and [the] spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 5) It is the Church's way of saying to the person who refuses to be reconciled: “Until you come back in with repentance, you cannot be part of the Communion.” In fact, after ordering the excommunication of the unrepentant man in his first letter, in Paul's second letter to the Corinthians he seems to suggest that the congregation had maybe taken things a little too far: “The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.” (2 Corinthians 2)

    As a Deacon, I have no right to excommunicate anybody–only a priest or bishop may do that. But it is my job, as a deacon, standing between the Church and the world, to translate the language each uses of the other. So let me be clear: Terry Jones cannot be considered a Christian, until he starts to act like one.

    Yes,”damned” is a harsh word, and sometimes we deacons get a little harsh; not so much with the world,as with the Church. I am praying for Jones and his weird little cult that they will come to see Jesus, as the one who came not to condemn the world, but to save it. In the meantime, the condemnation that they heap upon Muslims lies upon their own heads.


  7. T.J., I as I said to Karen, the Government's actions were harmful to the free exercise of religion because they got so worked up about an obvious nutcase. The Bill of Rights is not absolute, as you note. But in this case, Jones' threat (empty as it turns out) did not actually kill anybody, nor could the Government demonstrate that it would have. Simply asserting that Muslims were going to kill Americans because Jones was going to burn the Koran is actually itself a form of anti-Muslim rhetoric. Radical Islamists want to kill Americans who have never desecrated their Holy Book or insulted the Prophet, because they believe that we are their oppressors. Real Muslims would be hurt by those things, but they wouldn't kill people for them. As far as people burning Bibles or images of Jesus, well, from iconoclasts of the East to Popes of the West, we've had plenty of that in the past 1400 years from our own people, so why get upset about it if somebody else does it?

    I hope you know how much I value your feedback–and pushback–and hope that you will continue to stop by and share.


  8. Back in my college daze, a friend of mine was aware that I was in a cult (Christianity) and that I MUST be interested in this whole hub-bub about a cloth that they were sure was the burial covering for Jesus of Nazareth. He heard that they were performing tests that would determine, once and for all, if the cloth was, in fact, authentic. As he told me about it I patiently listened. When he finished, he asked me if I had heard about this cloth, the tests, and what the results were. I told him that this test was the latest of many “tests and exams”. It wasn't anything new. He said yes but…blah blah…new technology…blah blah…. he was surprised that I had not followed all this coverage (and this was BEFORE cable TV and 24 hour news). He felt like it was an important thing to my faith. I explained that my faith is not based upon wether or not the Shroud Of Turin was the actual burial cloth of Jesus. My faith is not hinging on wether the cloth is 2000 years old (600 to 800 years with latest technology) or is it blood stains or hair gel. My faith is based on the man, and not the shroud.
    My faith is based on the founding fathers of this country not on the sheet of vellum they signed 230 years ago.
    My faith is on the American soldiers who fight and die FOR us to be free not on cotton fabric with red white and blue dye.
    My faith is on the 5000 years worth of stories about a people and the God that loves them not the sheets of paper that the stories are massed produced upon and bound in expensive leather binding and stamped with the words “HOLY BIBLE” on the cover. It's a book. As with any sacred text. That's it. Paper, with ink smeared in precise ways to form recognizable shapes. And for ANYBODY to resort to any violence in the name of God, over what somebody does with it is an abomination of God.
    I've stood by and watched while they place a crucifix in urine and call it art (all with my tax dollars). My faith in my religion not wavered a bit. I watch while my own countrymen burn our country's flag. My love for this nation isn't affected an iota. I listen as my political opponents lampoon and joke about my political beliefs as though their favorite political candidate is akin to their favorite college football team. My faith in our political system still strong. So Terry Jones and his Christian followers can burn a Koran, or a bible or a flag or the constitution or the actual shroud that was used for Jesus' burial, for all I care. If anybody decides to strap bombs to their bodies and look for the most crowed market or start shooting American troops shame on THEM not the one burning the book.
    The things that my faith are based on ……….aren't things.


  9. Deacon Tim,

    I appreciate your kind word regarding my feedback.

    My point was that no official governmental action was ever taken and that the words that were spoken were meant to contribute to the marketplace of ideas. The editorial I linked to discusses the idea more thoroughly and more eloquently than I can.

    The FBI visit as far as I am aware was to discuss the security threats to the pastor and to provide security. I do not think they were meant to be intimidation. As for the speeches, I think they are EXACTLY the way that the 1st Amendment is supposed to work. Just because a person works in the government does not mean that individually they give up their 1st Amendment Right to speak. I do not think we were looking at an official government policy, but rather individuals acting that also happened to be state actors as well.

    I think the disagreement between you and I boils down to whether I think members of government speaking amount to governmental interference in the exercise of religion. Clearly, I don't believe as such. I also believe that having a discussion in the public domain regarding the issue is a net positive and is exactly what I think the Founding Fathers' intentions with regards to freedom of speech. Merely because someone has a public pulpit to speak from does not mean they shouldn't use it. Being a public servant does not neuter the ability to weigh in on controversial issues. In fact, I think it amplifies the responsibility to do so.

    And I greatly respect your theological prospective on the matter. I completely agree with you. It feels like the Pastor has lost the way in following the footsteps of the Man from Galilee.


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