Was Obama Biblically, Politically Correct to Apologize for the Quran Burning?

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  • Barack Obama
    (Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
    U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Miami in Miami, Florida February 23, 2012.
By Paul Stanley, Christian Post Reporter
March 2, 2012|3:16 pm

A new debate is stirring on whether President Obama's formal apology to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the burning of Qurans by U.S. troops stationed in the country was "biblically" correct, "politically" correct or neither.

The incident in question began on Feb. 21 when Afghan workers noticed four Quran texts, along with other Islamic books, in a trash pile that coalition workers collected. The books were retrieved from a library at the Parwan Detention Facility because they contained messages used by prisoners to communicate. Obama apologized for the "inadvertent" burning of the Islamic holy book.

In light of the protests that followed, more than 30 people, including four U.S. soldiers, were killed. But politics aside, what does the Bible say about Christians apologizing for burning another religion's text? The issue is challenging, even for expert theologians.

Dr. Kevin Lewis is an associate professor of Theology and Law at Biola University and holds advanced degrees in both law and divinity and answered the question in an email to The Christian Post.

"In Acts 19:17-20 first century converts to Christianity in Ephesus publicly burned scrolls related to the practice of sorcery and other types of occultism," Lewis wrote. "Here, they publicly burned their own scrolls in a community that was steeped in the practice of sorcery to publicly declare they had repented and turned to Christ. So in this case, the scroll burning was a public way of renouncing their old, false religion."

Lewis says there is a parallel that can be drawn to Christians burning texts such as the Quran, even when conversion is not the issue.

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"One could picture a former Muslim convert to Christianity imitating the actions of the Ephesians to demonstrate to a Christian congregation that he is a true convert to Christianity," said Smith. "If so, prudence would dictate that this would be done privately with other Christians, not publicly, as a public burning would certainly create unnecessary hostility with Muslims.

"Public burnings of the Koran by anyone only serve to create ill will with Muslims. It does not promote the Truth of Christianity by speaking the Truth in love as we are commanded to do in Ephesians 4:15."

Some are suggesting even if an apology was appropriate, it should have come from someone other than the president of the United States.

Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, agrees the president overextended his authority in this instance.

"President Obama's apology was an overreaction," Land told CP. "I would have had the commanding general or an under secretary of the Army make the apology, but not the president of the United States himself. That only inflamed the issue."

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer echoed similar sentiments. "We should have had a single apology coming from the commander on the ground and that's it. Not from the Secretary of Defense, not from the President of all the people"

Nevertheless, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rushed to the president's defense by saying that the Republican reaction to the apology would make the situation worse.

"I find it somewhat troubling that our politics would inflame such a dangerous situation in Afghanistan," Clinton said on CNN on Monday.

Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) has a reputation of being one of the more conservative members of Congress and has announced this will be his last term. Like Clinton, he feels Republicans are trying to take advantage of the situation for their own political gain.

"The burning of the Quran was clearly a mistake, and I stand by the President's actions to try and save American lives by reaching for peace, especially when we know from the experience of Florida Pastor Terry Jones's actions that the burning of the Quran would result in American and allied forces' deaths," Shuler wrote in an email to CP.

"This is not a Republican or Democratic issue, but an American issue, and I am disappointed that Republicans have opted to use this situation for their own political gain rather than stand united behind our Commander in Chief and our troops."

Eric Sapp, a political strategist with a Master of Divinity who has handled a number of campaigns of Democratic officeholders, sees the issue from their perspective.

"Christians should understand the healing power of an apology and how it's harder than refusing to admit a mistake," Sapps wrote in an email response to The Christian Post.

"The mistaken burning of the Koran upset the local population in a country where our troops are facing daily dangers. Candidates and talk show hosts may never apologize, but our President should be big enough to admit when a mistake was made, especially if doing so reduces the threat to our troops."

Dr. Bryan McGraw is a professor of political science at Wheaton College who teaches law and religion and both American and Christian political thought. In addition, he served three years in the U.S. Army as an intelligence officer.

"In general, how and when an apology is given is important, especially when some are trying to use the circumstances as an excuse to undermine the mission," said McGraw in an interview with The Christian Post.

"In and of itself, I didn't find the apology all that problematic, especially so long as we recognize that the apology does not mean that the reaction is itself reasonable. As I see it, the apology is a part of Afghanistan military mission and to the degree that it reflects the necessities of that mission, it seems defensible."

In an exclusive interview with ABC's Bob Woodruff on Wednesday, President Obama defended his apology, telling Woodruff he felt his comments "calmed things down," but hedging his words by saying, "We're not out of the woods yet."

The president gave the interview as he was planning to host a dinner for 78 service members from all branches and family members of wounded warriors.

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