September 7th, 2010
08:31 PM ET

My Take: Will moderate Christians fiddle as Qurans burn?

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Yesterday I was sitting on a pier on Cape Cod watching the summer drift away and talking with a friend about Islam. She told me something I have heard dozens of times before—that Muslims need to do a better job of denouncing the violence perpetrated in the name of their religion.

I told her that after 9/11, and after almost every act of violence perpetrated in the name of Islam, Muslims in the United States and around the world have lined up, individually and in groups, to denounce such violence in print, on television, and online. Unfortunately, as Daisy Khan of the controversial Park51 project in Lower Manhattan said in an August 25 conference call, “the voices of the moderate, mainstream majority Muslims have been drowned out by the actions of extremists.”

I agree with my friend that Muslims of good will need to be ever vigilant in speaking out against those who would hijack their religion for the purposes of terror.  Moderate Christians, however, need to do the same.

Over the last few months, a gaggle of conservative politicians have lined up to denounce not only the proposed Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero but also Islam itself. Reasonable people can disagree about whether their incendiary rhetoric is motivating attacks on Islamic properties such as the recent arson at the site of a future mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Quite unlike the conciliatory language of President George W. Bush, however, who repeatedly stated during his presidency that Americans were at war with terrorism rather than Islam, this rhetoric has surely stoked rather than doused American/Islamic tensions.

Now comes the pastor, provocateur, Terry Jones and his plan to burn Qurans on September 11 at his Gainesville-based Dove World Outreach Center—a plan the U.S. commander in Afghanistan David Petraeus says “could endanger troops” and “the overall effort in Afghanistan" and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says is both counterproductive and "disrespectful."

Predictably, this provocation is drawing notice worldwide, including in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, where thousands protested on Sunday outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, and in Afghanistan, where 500 or so chanted “long live Islam” and “death to America” in Kabul on Monday.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul responded to those protests by issuing a statement rejecting “acts of disrespect against the religion of Islam” and adding that “Americans from all religious and ethnic backgrounds reject the offensive initiative by this small group in Florida.”

My question is whether the political provocateurs who gave us the Park51 controversy will join those Americans in rejecting “Burn a Koran Day.” Or, to put it another way, where has all the sensitivity gone among those who have called for sensitivity in the blocks around ground zero? Will Sarah Palin grace us a tweet against this bonfire of the inanities? Will Newt Gingrich?

For at least a decade I have written that people inside each of the world’s religions must deal with the demons in their midst. Christians need to reckon with how their beliefs and actions helped to contribute to the Holocaust. Muslims need to reckon with how their beliefs and actions helped to inspire 9/11. “The Nazis were not Christians” will not cut it.  Neither will “the terrorists were not Muslims."

But calls for moderates to denounce religiously inspired violence go both ways. If my friend on the pier yesterday was right to call for moderate Muslims to speak out against Islam-inspired violence surely it is reasonable to expect moderate Christians to speak out against provocations such as “Burn a Koran Day.”

Happily, there are moderate Christians out there in the general public.  The National Association of Evangelicals has asked the tiny Florida church planning the event “to call it off in the name and love of Jesus Christ.” But are there any moderate Christians left among the chattering conservatives in the Republican Party? Is it really that hard for Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich to denounce the crankpot plans of a crankpot church whose core proclamation seems to be that “Islam is of the devil?”

As “International Burn a Koran Day” approaches, we will see. I am putting my best on an unholy silence.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Christianity • Florida • Fundamentalism • Islam • Opinion • Quran • Sarah Palin

soundoff (97 Responses)
  1. wguru

    16 months later after the US Army sacked and burned much of York, the British Canadian capitol, the White House was burned over chiefly due to a mistaken wig (found in a parliment court room) for which rumors grew to it supposedly being the scalpe of an elderly American).

    Ref. pg 61 at...


    One can't help but wonder when terrorists are going to start burning our unprotectable forests, not to mention burning our cities, ie; fuel pipelines are clearly and continiously marked with paint stripes and raised signs (all along their buried routes).

    Seems like we recently dodged that bullet, but all we need is for some zealot to actually proclaim and evidence his burning the muslem's sacred book.

    September 15, 2010 at 2:16 am |
  2. me

    and don't forget what the christian nation has done to the Native Americans and other indegenous tribes. we were locked up in christian run schools that were often staffed by people that had been excommunicated from thier respective faiths because of abuse and corruption. instead of firing these clerics they were put to "work with the indians". oh, they worked on us all right. chopping off our hair, washing our mouths out when we tried to speak our own language, taking away our names and assigning us new ones. striking us from history..oh we remember well what the black robes did to us. have we heard an apology yet? nope..

    September 11, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
    • Talking_It_Over


      Those insults and worse were done to my ancestors in England by the Romans. Am I to expect an apology from Italy and the descendants of those Romans today?

      Besides that, many, many people have decried those Christian insults to your ancestors. What do you want?

      September 11, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  3. Iqbal khan


    September 9, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  4. FYI

    I am a Christian and do not recognize Westboro "Church" as a Christian sect or anything else. These people are NOT Christians. Neither does the actions of this so called preacher in Fla qualify as a Christian. In my opinion, both are doing things and saying things that are not even near Christ and his teachings.
    The Ouran should not be burned, period! It is wrong. It is not about a "right" to do something. No ones book should be burned.
    I don't know who this guy thinks he is, to claim they need to be taught something. that is not his place to do.
    Its people like Westboro and this church in Fla who give Christianity a bad name, while they use the name to do thier trash.
    I condem it in the name of true Christianity, which is following Christ and his ways.
    I also condemn all acts thruout time, that were violent that were done by "Chrisitains".
    If we were do dissect each recorded act of violence, I bet we would find that the perpurtrators, were not following Christ either, but using it as a way to have THIER way. Sad and pathtic at best.
    Thats one reason I as a Christian, do not belong to any church. I can read my bible, pray, do good works, and love my neighbor. If I want to ask a question, or seek guidance, I go directly to the man Jesus, myself.
    Organized religion is anything but.

    September 9, 2010 at 8:40 am |
  5. GSA

    The sad truth is that not only will extremist Christians rejoice with burning a Quran but so will moderate Christians. I don't think it's about Religion, it's an American way of thinking right now to fear and hate everything about Islam, much the same way that many Muslims have hatred and fear towards Americans. Vicious circle.
    Kate and Rubinder, thank you for the refreshing posts, well said with dignity and respect. A lot more people would live happier and fulfilled lives if they had the level-headed and open-minded, non-bias views such as you 2.

    September 8, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
    • Kate


      I have to disagree with you in part – moderate Americans won't be rejoicing. As hard as it is to try to separate the two from an external perspective, Americans when approached on that basis are a mix of all faiths and none. It's a mistake to try and extrapolate reactions of the whole based on solely their religious ideology.

      The Founding Fathers knew d4mned well what they were doing when they wrote the First Amendment and separated Church from State. I do wonder if we have anyone with the same vision 200-odd years later though.

      Just musin'

      September 8, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  6. NL

    They came first for the Communists,
    and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

    Then they came for me
    and by that time no one was left to speak up.

    Pastor Martin Niemöller

    Somebody, everybody, needs to speak up NOW!

    September 8, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
  7. Reality

    One more time:

    Google "Muslims bible burning" to get all said references about Muslims burning the bible but note that once the "bowers" of Islam see how they have been conned by their imams and ayatollahs for the last 1400 years, they too will burn their copies of the koran i.e. the angel Gabriel never existed so there is no way that the warmongering, womanizing, and hallucinating Mohammed got any koranic passages from some god. Tis the great angelic con game. Joe Smith was the latest to pull it off with his "angelic" Moroni. The significant stupidity and gullibility of it all!!!!!

    And ditto when we the "pew peasants" of Christianity finally realize the con that has been pulled on us, we too will burn our bibles. I have not burned my copy but have relegated it to the mostly fiction section of my reference library.

    September 8, 2010 at 10:41 am |
    • Kate


      Are you sure your name isn't really Riley? As in Kevin Riley, of Star Trek fame?

      You sure sound like him 😛

      Just sayin'

      September 8, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.