Burning Korans (the right way)

You couldn’t watch or listen to the news for more than a few minutes this week without hearing about the Florida pastor’s plan to burn Korans on the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

After it was reported that General Petraus had expressed his concerns that this could very easily put American soldiers and expatriates at risk in Afghanistan and other countries, I wrote an email to Pastor Jones asking him to reconsider his plans – both as a brother in Christ and as a fellow leader in ministry.

I don’t know if he actually received or read my email. But given that both the State Department and the White House have found it necessary to weigh in on this, my words seem fairly insignificant anyway.

It is now being reported that others are also planning to burn copies of Islam’s holy book, even though Pastor Jones may be ready to change his mind. (Although even as late as 6:00 PM on Friday evening, Fox News is reporting that it still isn’t certain exactly what he is finally going to do.)

I’m quite sure that even though emotions might be running high on the eve of 9/11, there are probably few, if any, ABI readers who would remotely consider such a plan as being anything but ill-conceived and misguided for any number of practical reasons. But the bigger question is whether or not there are biblical principles that should guide and inform our thinking about this. Does the Bible have anything to say about what we can and should do concerning such religious materials – things that arguably contribute to the kind of evil worldview that spawned those horrific events nine years ago?

In the Old Testament we find multiple examples of God’s clear instructions to burn and destroy everything related to the worship of false gods. However, the historical context (Israel’s conquest, settlement and rule over Canaan) and God’s purpose for commanding such actions are equally clear – and we, as Christians, are not at all in a similar situation. On the other hand, there is an incident in the New Testament that does give insight into what is almost certainly the right strategy for us in this age.

In Acts chapter 19, we find an extended report concerning Paul’s two-year ministry in Ephesus (a city in the region that would later be at the heart of the Ottoman empire). As you may recall, at the end of those two years, Paul and his ministry team found themselves in an extremely dangerous situation. The entire city was in an uproar and they were out for blood. Crowding into the city’s amphitheater, the angry mob dragged Gaius and Aristarchus in with them as they shouted religious chants against them for two hours nonstop.

Do you remember what it was that ultimately sparked this riot? A religious book-burning!

But, who was it that was burning whose books? It was a group of men who had responded to the proclamation of the gospel – men whose hearts had been completely changed through faith in Christ – men who consequently burned their own religious books (worth a small fortune)!

I wonder if there might be a lesson there…

7 Comments
  1. Thank you for your words. I posted a short blog expressing the same viewpoint a few hours ago, and I plan to address our congregation on Sunday concerning the Florida pastor’s ill conceived and provocative ideas. This is a good time to review the truth about Islam, and to renew our commitment to share the gospel with Muslims, men and women for whom Christ died. No doubt, the Koran burning pastor has made this task more difficult for those of us who are more concerned with souls than politics.

  2. Another perspective to consider (not fully my own):
    http://americanvision.org/3487/on-burning-korans/

    • I very much hesitated to approve this comment for posting because I find it nearly as misguided as the ill-conceived plan to burn Korans. (But I don’t like to censor posts unless really necessary.)

      I find the article to be poorly-written and difficult to follow – lacking clear focus and reasoning – combined with the fact that he seems to be using this as simply a springboard to other issues that are really only tangentially related – connected by only very tenuous strands.

      And despite his disclaimer about his personal view of burning Korans, his tacit support, at least in principle, seems readily apparent. I find this the most disappointing if he claims to be a Christian – which I don’t know for sure, but surmise from couple of the comments.

      Beyond all this, his logic has gaping holes. How is burning the Koran even roughly equivalent to burning the U.N. Charter – or any of the other non-religious (let alone scripture of another religion) documents. Can he really be serious about this? This seems like the proverbial “grasping for straws.”

      And finally, what is with the cheap shots? First he belittles a general for not wanting to further and unnecessarily exacerbate an already bad situation. First of all, Petraeus didn’t put those troops there “in the first place” – but it is his responsibility to do his best to protect them. Neither are the troops all there by choice. His comments about “they shouldn’t have gone there in the first place” if they are going to whine about the addition threat due to the Koran burning strikes me as juvenile and little more than playground taunting.

      Then, what’s with the cheap shot at dispensationalists? Is he really serious? It’s difficult to find words to express just how silly that is. Those comments are characteristic of the foolish theological rhetoric that happens when those who seem to not understand a particular theological position feel compelled to try to rebut it.

      Unfortunate from beginning to end.

  3. Lest we forget, at the behest of muslims, the U S military
    burned copies of Afgan-language bibles that had somehow come
    into Afganistan. O K for our holy books to be desecrated,
    but death to Americans should a Koran get burned? When will
    someone stand up to these people and tell them this is not
    Burger King? You don’t get it your way. You get it the way
    we give it to you, or you don’t get it at all. I never thought
    I would see the day when I could agree with attourney general
    Eric Holder when he called us a nation of cowards. But it goes
    deeper than that. As long as we continue to shed innocent blood
    in this nation, (60 million abortions and counting?) God will
    not be with us on the military battlefield, nor in the battle
    for men’s souls. We are going down the prophetic path the Bible
    speaks of for the last days of human history. If I could not
    count my citizenship as belonging above, and not belonging here
    I’m sure I would lose my mind.

    • A couple of thoughts:
      We are not an occupying imperialistic force, nor is our military on a religious crusade – so having these Bible connected with the U.S. military was not a smart idea from a number of perspectives. I’m not suggesting that I like or support the idea of burning Bibles – I don’t in the least. But they did what they felt they had to do strategically for the sake of the troops and the overall mission. There are many Bible already being taken into the region apart from the military – so getting the Word of God into the country is not the main issue in the big scheme of things. The other problem is that the military was first inclined to simply ship these Bibles back to the church that sent them, but they were apparently already identifiable as being connected with the U.S. military – and the concern was that they would simply be redistributed in the U.S. to another group that would get them back into Afghanistan again – but they would be still wrongly perceived as coming in through the U.S. military. There’s nothing good about war.

      I don’t think speaking out against burning Korans has anything to do with cowardice. It definitely doesn’t take a brave person to burn Korans in a country where free speech is protected by the Constitution (even though I do understand that he has been threatened – but that is his fault for being foolish, not brave.)

      We are fighting this war precisely because we’re not the kind of people who burn religious books – so there is nothing inconsistent on that count. Conversely, I doubt that the average Muslim would be for the Bible being burned either – because it, too, is considered a holy book and Christians are considered to be “People of the Book.”

      As always, we end up having to account for the lowest common denominator – enact laws – enforce laws – go to war, etc. because of a lunatic fringe.

      The consequences of sin and living in a fallen world have no bounds – and like growing old, it ain’t for sissies.

  4. I very much appreciated your commentary. You have helped me
    understand more of what we are up against. I went for a walk
    through a cemetary, and saw how wars have been a fact of life
    from the birth of our country. How the citizens have had to respond to the threats to their way of life and liberty.
    Christians of all periods of history have had to fight in
    order to survive, even though it went against what they believe. I’m convinced times now are no less dangerous than
    any other time Americans have had to fight a common enemy.

  5. Thanks Mr. James for your clear approach to this issue.


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