The head of the world's largest evangelical body on Wednesday spoke for the first time with the pastor behind the planned Sept. 11 Quran burning.
Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, CEO and secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance, tried to dissuade Dr. Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., from following through on his controversial plan, which has sparked protests overseas and prompted pleas from U.S. government officials.
Tunnicliffe, whose organization represents 420 million evangelicals, said Jones seemed a "bit ambivalent" about going through with the event but did not say anything new. The evangelical leader offered to fly down to Florida on Friday – one day before the event – to speak to Jones and his congregation.
Jones, in response, reportedly said he would not turn Tunnicliffe away if he came. He also said that while the WEA head may not be able to change his mind, he was also praying about the situation, suggesting there is still hope he might cancel the event.
"I asked him if he went ahead [with the plan] and violence followed and lives lost, if he would be willing to sit with a widow of a pastor and explain to her why his church felt it needed to take this kind of action," recalled Tunnicliffe to The Christian Post. "Or [if he would be willing to] sit with a congregation that had been burned down and explain to them why he felt he needed to do what he did."
Though Dove World Outreach Center is not a member of the WEA or its U.S. regional body, the National Association of Evangelicals, Tunnicliffe said his organization has a responsibility to intervene as some might consider Dove World Outreach Center at the "fringe" of the evangelical family
The State Department, the White House and WEA members around the world had requested for the WEA to intervene and try to convince Jones and his church to cancel the planned burning.
"I pleaded with him on behalf of the global church to abandon his idea," Tunnicliffe reported.
To date, Christian leaders – conservative and liberal – have been outspoken in condemning the plan.
The National Association of Evangelicals urged the church to cancel the burning, saying such an act "would exacerbate tensions between Christians and Muslims throughout the world." And Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, called the leaders of Dove World Outreach Center "misguided."
Despite the calls, Jones said his church wants to move forward with burning Qurans to warn Americans about the dangers of Islam, which he describes as demonic but disguised as a religion of peace.
In an interview on CNN's AC360 Tuesday, Jones said at the moment he still plans to continue with the Quran burning but was taking the concerns of Gen. David Patraeus "very seriously."
Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said in a statement Tuesday that the burning "could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan."
"It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community," the general stated.
But Jones, even when pressed by CNN's Anderson Cooper, refused to say whether taking Petraeus' concerns seriously meant considering to call off the event. Instead, he called on Americans to not "back down" and to tell radical Islam that we will not be "pushed around" anymore.
The controversial pastor, who admitted to not knowing any names of the nearly 3,000 victims who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, also argued that his church is burning a book and not killing anyone.
"The general (Petraeus) needs to point his finger to radical Islam and tell them to shut up, tell them to stop, tell them that we will not bow our knees to them," Jones said on AC360.
The Rev. Rob Schenck, president of Faith and Action in the Nation's Capital, however, said the act of burning things belongs to groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis and terrorists.
"[I]t's impossible for me to cite one instance in the life or teaching of Jesus Christ that could justify such an act," Schenck said.
Similarly, Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA, denounced the act as unchristian. Moeller, whose ministry works with persecuted Christians, said there will likely be a backlash against Christians living in predominantly Muslim countries if the burning takes place.
"The planned burning of the Quran is a disaster on two fronts: It violates the command of Jesus to love our neighbor and it would likely cause Christians worldwide to be more vilified and persecuted," Moeller said Tuesday.
"I urge the Dove World Outreach Center and its senior pastor, Terry Jones, to cancel the event. Hate is not biblical; it is not the message of Jesus."
This past weekend, Muslims were already visibly riled by Dove World Outreach Center's plan and threats against Christians were issued.
Hundreds of Afghans protested outside of a Kabul mosque Monday, burning American flags and chanting "Death to America" and "Long live Islam." Demonstrators also burned an effigy of Jones, according to The Associated Press.
In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, thousands of Muslims rallied Saturday outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta against the church's plan. The Quran burning day also reportedly sparked a smaller protest of 100 Indonesian Muslims in Jakarta on Aug. 30.
The planned Quran burning is scheduled to take place between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Saturday. Around 200 copies of the Muslim holy book are up for burning.