(Photo: AP Images / Phil Sandlin)
Pastor Terry Jones has once again threatened to burn Qurans, this time in protest of Iran's continued imprisonment of Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. The Florida minister, whose previous protests attracted violent reaction, tells CP why he is once more taking such a controversial stance.
Jones and his organization are calling for supporters worldwide to burn copies of the Islamic holy book and images of the faith's founder the prophet Muhammad. The controversial pastor plans to carry out his own torching this Saturday, April 28 at 5 p.m. ET in front of his church, Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla.
Jones told The Christian Post Wednesday that the service will be roughly an hour long, during which he will speak on "the last 1,400 years of Islamic persecution of Christians, believers, nonbelievers, homosexuals, and women."
"We'll be dealing with the injustice that has gone on, and continues to go on, under Islam," he told CP, calling the faith a "bully."
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who has been imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith since Oct. 2009, represents "all of the death and destruction caused by Islam, and the apathy and the lack of us really doing anything. Of course if our government would put pressure on Iran, we could do more, [as well as] with the help of the United Nations," the minister said.
Jones told The Christian Post that the ideal outcome of Saturday's book burning would be Iran freeing Nadarkhani before the torching of holy books could actually occur.
"Our end result is we would like to have these things brought in front of the United Nations" Jones said.
"We would like Islam-dominated countries to adapt at least some form of human rights, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion rights; individual rights [and] civil rights. That would be the outcome that we would desire," he added.
A previous Quran-burning event two years ago did not have positive results, even though Jones' threat never materialized.
In July 2010, Jones threatened to burn 200 Qurans on the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. He deemed the controversial event "International Burn a Koran Day."
Although the minister canceled the event, his threat to burn the Muslim holy books sparked riots in the Middle East and Asia.
Another event in 2011 caused even more concern when Jones held the "trial of the Quran" on March 20 inside his Gainesville, Fla., church. The minister burned the Islamic book inside Dove World Outreach Center, prompting massive riots in Northern Afghanistan city of Mazar-i-Shairf. Protesters attacked the United Nations Assistance Mission, reportedly killing 10 U.N. staff members.
When asked if he expects this Saturday's book burning to spark riots as it has in the past, Jones said, "I would assume they are a possibility."
Jones told CP that he has previously been contacted by Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who warned the Florida pastor of the potential for riots.
In February, violent protests broke out across Afghanistan when it was discovered that copies of the Quran and other Islamic texts had accidentally been damaged by fire at joint U.S. base north of Kabul. More recently, a U.S. staff sergeant has been accused of gunning down 16 civilians in the country's rural Panjwai district.
"Without trying to sound callous, and with respect towards Gen. Allen and our military, the reality is this: the military is a funded organization of $750 billion a year. They are made up of a group of volunteers. They knew what they were getting into when they joined the military, and they are also made up of people who are well trained and well equipped," Jones said.
"Honestly, my main concern is not about the people in that category. My concern is for the millions of untrained, unequipped, unfinanced [sic] Christians, believers, nonbelievers, women, all the homosexuals who continue to be abused, raped and killed, their houses burned down, forced into Islam […] that is actually who we are fighting for and concerned about," he added.
When questioned about the possibility of unarmed government workers, such as United Nations workers, being injured as they have in the past, as a result of his Quran burning sparking violence, Jones said:
"Of course we don't want anyone to be armed or killed. Obviously that would be very tragical [sic]. I'm not trying to make any excuses for what we do, but, I think at the same time, doing nothing will not help either," he said.
"Of course if you stand up to the bully, you also might get hurt. You might get beat up. But if you can get enough people standing up to Islam, the bully, they will sooner than later back down," Jones added.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has been following Nadharkhani's case, condemns Jones' actions, arguing that the burning of religious texts is an ineffective way to proposition the pastor's release.
"Millions around the world continue to pray for the immediate and unconditional release of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. We believe in the power of prayer. And, we believe the most effective means to secure his release is to publicize his story, and to work with government officials to increase pressure on Iran to release him," the ACLJ said in a statement to The Christian Post.
"We do not support tactics that desecrate or destroy any religious objects. Such a move is not only ill-advised, but reflects a troubling tactic that will do nothing to secure the release of the pastor," the statement added.
As for how burning Qurans would specifically persuade Iranian authorities to release Nadarkhani, Pastor Jones offered no details. His Stand Up America Now website promises that the event will be streamed live on the Internet.
Nadarkhani was arrested in Oct. 2009 for protesting the mandatory teaching of Islam at his children's schools. His charges were later changed to apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims, for which he was sentenced to death by execution.
Although his case has received a large amount of international attention, Nadarkhani continues to await his final verdict in Iranian jail, as he nears his 1,000th day of imprisonment.
Jones told CP that he has been a pastor in Christian ministry for the past 30 years. He has worked in Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and was a missionary in Europe for decades.
He attended Miranova Leadership Training School, as a part of Miranova Ministries, headed by Bob Weiner. He also received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1993 from California Graduate School of Theology, an unaccredited interdenominational institution.