A controversial Florida church known for publicly condemning what it considers sins plans to burn copies of Islam's holy book on the upcoming ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The non-denominational Dove World Outreach Center, which has in the past joined the extremist Westboro Baptist Church in protesting homosexuality, is organizing the "International Burn A Quran Day" to oppose Islam, which it sees as a "violent and oppressive religion."
"We only did it because we felt there needed to be an outcry against Islam, because Islam is presenting itself as a religion of peace," explained Dr. Terry Jones, senior pastor of Dove World Outreach Center, to The Christian Post on Tuesday.
"We see the effects of Islam on Europe. As it has done nothing, Islam is beginning to take over there," he added.
Participants of the burning plan to light up Qurans on the church property to remember the victims of 9/11 and to "stand against the evil of Islam," according to the group's Facebook.
The Council on American-Islam Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim advocacy group, has responded to news of the "International Burn A Quran Day" by announcing an educational "Share the Quran" dinner on Sept. 11, which falls during Ramadan.
"American Muslims and other people of conscience should support positive educational efforts to prevent the spread of Islamophobia," remarked Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director of CAIR.
Last year, the Gainesville, Fla.-based Dove World Outreach Center put up a sign on its property that read "Islam is of the Devil." Not surprisingly, the sign triggered an uproar in the neighborhood, with residents calling the sign hateful. Jones said there were threats to burn down the church and death threats against the church leaders as a result.
When asked if he has ever participated in interfaith dialogues, Jones said "of course" and said he has talked to the CAIR director in Tampa, Fla. He also said he has invited Muslims to come to the 9/11 Quran burning event and is willing to dialogue with them during the activity.
Jones emphasizes that his church does not just speak out about Islam but also homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and abortion.
To Christian critics who say the Quran burning event is not the way to show Christian love to Muslims, Jones' response is they should stop criticizing and find another way to raise awareness about Islam or to share the Gospel.
"Most people who criticize are also the people who don't do anything," said Jones. "If they do not like our method – they don't have to like our method, they don't have to adopt our method – then they should do something themselves," he said, proposing they go door-to-door to distribute Christian literature about the love of Jesus.
A survey released by LifeWay Research in April found that 42 percent of Protestant pastors believe Islam "promotes violence" and more than half agree with a statement by well-known evangelist Franklin Graham, who said Islam is an "evil" religion.
Pastors from mainline denominations, the survey found, were more likely to hold a positive view of Islam.
Despite their views about Islam, however, six in ten pastors agree that Christianity and Islam should try to co-exist in the United States.
"We should not say that Protestant pastors are uniform in their view and in no way does this study show they think that Muslims are bad people, but it does show concerns about the religion and its impact," commented Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research.