(Photo: AP Photo / Rahmat Gul)
The head of the world’s largest evangelical body said Friday that he welcomed the unanimous condemnation of one church’s plan to burn copies of the Quran but challenged world leaders and the media to do the same for radical actions committed against Christians.
“Speaking out strongly against the proposed burning of Korans was the right thing to do and we warmly welcome the unanimous condemnation from politicians, religious leaders and the global media in this case,” expressed Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of the World Evangelical Alliance.
“As we consider the outcry against this one small, obscure group, we now plead that the world’s leaders and media demonstrate the same kind of outspoken condemnation when radical actions on an equal or larger scale are committed against Christians.”
Over the past several weeks, media and leaders around the world have brought attention to the 50-member Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., which had scheduled a “Burn a Quran Day” for Saturday’s anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
President Obama exhorted the church’s pastor to "listen to those better angels" and call off his plan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the plan as "disrespectful, disgraceful." And the United Nations said such an act would be “abhorrent.”
"On behalf of the United Nations and the whole international community present in Afghanistan, I would like to express in the strongest possible terms our concern and indeed outrage at the announcement by a small religious group abroad of their intention to burn copies of the holy book of the Quran," Staffan de Mistura, head of the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan, said in a statement issued in Kabul.
"If such an abhorrent act were to be implemented, it would only contribute to fueling the arguments of those who are indeed against peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan," he added.
Notably, however, while the Gainesville church has called of Saturday’s burning (without ruling out future burnings), the violent onslaught by anti-West, anti-Christian Muslims is not expected to abate.
As Christian leaders have noted, some radicals and ill-informed individuals overseas don’t need such an act to provoke them.
“Every day, Christians in Indonesia, Pakistan, Sudan, and elsewhere in the Islamic world face oppression and persecution brought about without the assistance of Quran-burning clergymen,” noted Faith McDonnell, religious liberty director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
“The list of violent acts committed against Christians in recent years goes on and on,” added Tunnicliffe, noting that attacks on Christians are not perpetrated by Muslims alone.
In India, for example, radical Hindus waged a campaign of sustained violence against Christians in 2008 that left at least 70 people dead, more than 4,000 homes burnt down, at least 149 churches destroyed, and some 54,000 Christians homeless.
That same year, the deputy mayor of the central Israeli town of Or Yehuda incited hundreds of people to burn hundreds of copies of the New Testament.
And in recent years, churches in Sri Lanka have been burned to the ground, pastors have been assassinated, and radical Buddhist politicians have called for a new law that would significantly restrict the activities of local churches.
“Christians have reacted to these attacks with an attitude of non-violence but should their peaceful response mean that the rest of the world feels no need to cry out,” posed Tunnicliffe. “Are actions only deemed wrong when there is a good chance that the victims, or those connected to them, will react in violence?”
For IRD’s McDonnell, the “greatest tragedy” in the Quran burning frenzy is greater risk it posed Christians in Muslim-dominated areas.
While American Christian leaders this week flocked to defend American Muslims from physical threats, persecuted Christians find themselves precariously at risk due to the offenses of one tiny church, she noted.
“Just as we do not hold all Muslims responsible for the September 11 attacks, Muslims should not hold Christian minorities responsible for the actions of one tiny Florida church,” McDonnell pointed out.
With the controversy over Dove World Outreach expected to subside in the coming days, Tunnicliffe said it will be interesting to see how the world responds to the violent acts committed against Christians in the future.
“Will leaders react with the same kind of justifiable outrage as they have against the proposed burning of the Qur’an? If so, will they have the courage to speak up, not only out of some concern for reciprocity or a fear of repercussions, but simply because it is the right thing to do?” WEA’s leader posed.
Notably, while much attention was placed on Dove World Outreach in the months leading up to Saturday’s 9/11 anniversary, a similar stunt in 2008 went largely unnoticed. But organizing that burning was the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kan., an almost universally condemned group of fundamentalists who also protest at military funerals.
Though Dove World Outreach is non-denominational, it could be considered by some to be on the “fringe” of the evangelical church. For this reason, among others, the WEA felt it had a responsibility to intervene.
Aside from the possible ties to evangelicalism, Tunncliffe said the WEA spoke out clearly against the proposed burning because “it was simply the right thing to do.”
It also wanted to prevent the almost-certain violence by radicals that would result from such an act as was witnessed during the Danish cartoon crisis in 2005. At least 150 people were killed around the world and thousands injured over the publication of cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
Muslims condemn the depiction of any of its prophets, from Adam to Moses to Jesus to Muhammad.