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. P. N.

    The Catholic leadership, significant Christian power in Germany but treated as enemy of the state, tolerated (sanctioned) the Holocaust in order for it (Vatican) to continue to collect its religious tax on parishioners under a fascist regime. Quite the obscene arrangement...enabling genocide to continue accumulating wealth as an enemy of the state. Fill in the rest with the favored Christian branch, Protestants, and other Christian denominations, Lutherans, etc, etc, etc. Good grief, what an exhausting statement you made. Could you just do a little reading on your own instead of watching Fox. You make such a meaningless statement out of laziness, with no supporting facts, and force patriots like myself to fill in the blanks in order to save our country from extremists like the GOP and its Tea Party sect from indoctrinating the laziest voting base in American politics with propaganda. For the sake of the motherland, please do you part.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:44 pm |
  2. Rytch Yunder

    Burning Korans is in no way similar to Jihad. It's a much-needed act of defiance. Why is it OK to mock Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, and other groups? Because they don't try to kill you. We can't let Islam have that power over us. Either we're free or we aren't. I don't know that this pastor is doing the most Christian thing here, but he's doing something that we, as a civilization, need to be willing to do: spit in their eye and tell them that their ways are not our ways; that their book is no more sanctified than their vile actions.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:40 pm |
    • donniem

      I don't know you, so I don't want to say you are ignorant. Have you even read about Teery Jones and his Dove Outreach? First, he not only plans to burn Qurans, but also plans tothrow in some Talmuds (Jewish law) for those of you who care. Second, his purported "church" runs an "Academy" where people pay to repent and to work for no pay for Pastor Jones's profita-making vintage furniture business - i.e. thaey used as slave labor, likely in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

      Sure,he has the "right" to burn the Quran - we Americans have lots of rights. But with rights come responsibilities. Of course, I am sure you - and all of your conservative Chirstian and Republican friends would not consider me an American - as a secular Jew. However, you and your ilk want th US to become all that we dispise in religious dictatorships around the world. You turn the Constitution into so much toilet paper.

      September 7, 2010 at 11:07 pm |
    • Sanela

      You don't make sense: spit in their eye and tell them their ways are not our ways. Middle Eastern Muslims have been telling you, Western Christians, all their lives: your ways are not our ways-live us alone! But you won't. You need the oil. When the people you attack (i.e. Iraq) defend themselves, then you feel it is just to kill them, 'spit in their eyes' and tell them: my way or no way!!!

      September 8, 2010 at 8:41 am |
    • Rubinder Singh

      An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. however, the desecration of another religions holy books is explicitly forbidden in Islam as is mocking other religions. If there are people doing it they are doing it from Ignorance of their faith rather than knowledge of what their book teaches them. I feel the same about the Gainsville Pastor – Christians that I know would not do this.

      September 8, 2010 at 11:10 am |
  3. JAN


    September 7, 2010 at 9:39 pm |
  4. Iqbal khan


    September 7, 2010 at 9:38 pm |
  5. Robert Castle

    For those who argue that the Koran burners are protected by the Constitutional guarantee of free speech ,
    Justice Holmes assertion in Schenck v. United States that "the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic" is a case in point.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
  6. Bobby Brown

    In an ideal world Christians would have to do nothing to denounce this stupidity and bigotry perpetrated by those who know nothing of Islam and would rather remain ignorant. In a perfect world people all around the world would understand that the actions perpetrated by a few in no way represent the whole. No one would group these Evangelicals with Christianity or with America. What many people don't seem to understand is that Islam is not a religion of pacifism like Christianity, but it is one of peace. Islam promotes kindness, love, understanding etc, but Islam also teaches its followers to defend themselves from attacks on their lives, homes, liberty, and religion. It is because of this, some extremists feels that is a call to end america.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
  7. MDG

    I am a Christian and stongly disagree with the people in Florida who plan to burn the Koran are wrong. This action will create a bigger chasm between religions. Jesus would have said turn the other cheek and do not provoke violence.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
    • Johnny Bacala

      If Jesus was in the WTC, i doubt he would of turned the other cheek.

      September 8, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
  8. Jim Q

    The author has no sense of proportion.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
  9. Valpey

    Wow! Godwin's law strikes in paragraph 9 and comment 3.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
    • Kate


      Godwin's Law has a non-expiring subscription to these blogs 😛

      Any time God comes up, Godwin's Law is going to be validated. It's inevitable 🙂

      Just sayin'

      September 7, 2010 at 9:47 pm |
  10. daniel

    Hitler was Jewish, he was killing his on kind

    September 7, 2010 at 9:08 pm |
    • Sanela

      Daniel, more like a Christian with jewish roots. I find it that converts to other faiths are often the most fierce enemies of their previous religious community.

      September 8, 2010 at 8:37 am |
  11. Stephen Real

    "Before Hitler could kill six million Jews, he had to burn six million books."

    September 7, 2010 at 9:08 pm |
  12. Joe Anderson

    Indonesia is not the largest Muslim country. It is a secular democracy that has the largest Muslim population. Calling Indonesia a Muslim country is like calling the U.S. a Christian country. While it is true that the majority of Americans are Christians, the nation itself is a secular democracy; as is Indonesia. Otherwise, I completely agree with, and applaud, your exhortation to Christians in this article.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:06 pm |
    • Stephen Prothero

      Depends on how you define Muslim country but, yes, it would be more accurate to say that Indonesia (with roughly 178 million Muslims) is the country with the largest population of Muslims.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
  13. bish

    “Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings.” ~ Heinrich Heine (German poet)

    September 7, 2010 at 9:04 pm |
  14. No tolerance

    Isn’t funny when the bible or god is desecrated, even in art shows, it's no big deal by all including the liberal media. But if the Koran is desecrated, the muslims have no tolerance at all. If I feel like it, I too will burn the Koran.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
    • Robert Castle

      This comment is the epitome of irrationality.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:21 pm |
    • rick

      muslims claim they love the Constitution which protects their rights to worship as they please and I say that same Constitution protects your right to burn whatever book you want. It works both ways except that some religions love tolerance only when it works for them.

      September 8, 2010 at 12:25 am |
    • Sanela

      Muslims never desecrated your Bible. Find me a Muslim who threw a Bible in trash/toilet, or burned it? Never happened. Yet, you, being angry for lack of Christian motivation to protect their own religious beliefs in a predominantly agnostic country that U.S. has become, you want to backlash at the Muslims? Did you know that no joke about Jesus meant to humiliate him is ever promoted in the Muslim countries? For many Christians belittling Jesus is ok, but for Muslims is not. Bet you didn't know that.

      September 8, 2010 at 8:35 am |
    • Philip

      Sanela says: "Muslims never desecrated your Bible. Find me a Muslim who threw a Bible in trash/toilet.."

      Just go to a muslim country, like Saudi, with a Bible, and immediately at the airport, in front of your eyes, it will land in the trash can.

      September 8, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
    • Frogist

      @rick: And christians claim to care about peace and understanding while burning someone else's sacred text. It works both ways except that some religions love tolerance only when it works for them. See what happens when you paint everyone with the same brush?

      September 8, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  15. Gail Reece


    September 7, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
  16. Amanda

    It would be a good time for anyone who has listeners to stand up against this. Those who care about safety... should. We shall see... great article, Stephen.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
  17. TammyB

    All you have to do is read this blog and discover there are a lot of Christians and non-christians who are denouncing the burning of Qurans. Many more are against this that aren't on this blog. And I am fairly certain that christians have denounced the Holocast severely over the last several decades. I just don't think the moderate Muslims have been very vigilant or very vocal in their disapproval...I hadn't heard much until very recently about their opinions regarding terrorism.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:58 pm |
    • Torchie

      youre right its out there on the bolg, but I havent read much of the conservative leadership denouncing it. Did I miss Dr Dobson? Or Sarah Palin? Or Representative Bohner?

      September 7, 2010 at 9:34 pm |
    • Kate


      I think you've also seen the denunciations of media outlets that have paid any more than a passing interest to those condemnations though.

      The media is stuck between a rock and a hard place on covering the responses of moderate Muslims – if they give it remotely close to the same coverage as they do anti-Muslim rhetoric, then their impartiality is called into question – and the media is a profession that relies on reputation a great deal (The furore over the Journolist springs to mind)

      Just observin'

      September 7, 2010 at 9:43 pm |
    • scott

      "All you have to do is read this blog and discover there are a lot of Christians and non-christians who are denouncing the burning of Qurans. Many more are against this that aren't on this blog. And I am fairly certain that christians have denounced the Holocast severely over the last several decades. I just don't think the moderate Muslims have been very vigilant or very vocal in their disapproval...I hadn't heard much until very recently about their opinions regarding terrorism."

      Fully agree with this. I believe the mosque Near Ground Zero, is a terrible idea and if I had the decision it would not be built. Since I am not in charge, I hate to admit it, but as far as the constitution is concerned and our general tolerance of this type of activity, we do take a step back if we prohibit it from a gov't standpoint. That being said, the Imann and others are pretty transparent in their reasoning for it being built. I find it a bit much to believe in the lip service being given, knowing there are many other reports out there which have some semblance of what I perceive to be the main impetus behind this project. If Islam wants show it is sensitive to the people in the US, perhaps they should move it a few miles away out of respect for the country they are living in. This would be a sane reasonable decision, but it will not happen. Unfortunately, we can't let our government make the decision. This does not mean the people can not voice their disapproval. Hopefully that would mean something to the Muslims in this country. That is how you show what your religion is about, not just talking about the peaceful and compassionate side to your religion. I am sure this side does exist every bit as much in Islam as in any religion, at least I hope that it does.

      September 7, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
    • Rubinder Singh

      Tammy: well, despite the fact that 1.5 billion Muslims should not have to be responsible for the actions of a few extremists, Muslms have been VERY vocal about denouncing any acts of terror, whether conducted by people with "Muslim" names or otherwise. The problem is, no one covers their press conferences, links their writings, or attends their lectures with the same vigor as CNN and other media outlets cover whatever the act of terror. For example, did you know that 46 out of 47 leading religious organizations strongly and forcefully denounced the"fatwa" against the Satanic Versus no only on moral grounds but on grounds of Islamic Shariah Law and Islamic Jurisprudence regarding freedom of speech. Did you ever hear about it? I didnt either. I read about it ten years later in a book by Karen Armstrong.

      It's a damn shame – and all of us that look a little different are getting caught in this cross-fire.

      September 8, 2010 at 10:57 am |
    • Robert Castle

      Almost everything you read or hear through the media has been edited by Rupert Murdoch, aka News Corporation which includes Fox News. It serves the neocon goals not to publish anything that would place Muslims in a favorable light.

      November 16, 2010 at 11:46 pm |
  18. Lagunatic

    Terry Jones is Hitler reincarnate.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
  19. PsiCop

    Re: the question posed in the headline: The answer is a resounding "yes." They most certainly WILL "fiddle" while Qur'ans burn. Anything that makes another religion looks bad, or insults or belittles it, will be viewed - by many Christians - as somehow reinforcing the value and prestige of their own.

    That's what this anti-Islamic backlash is all about ... helping Christians feel better about their own Christianity, by knocking Muslims and their religion down a peg or two. It's a kind of metaphysical schadenfreude. If it sounds childish, that's because ... well! ... it IS childish. Mature, rational Christians who are secure in their own faith have no need to put down any other religion. Unfortunately there aren't enough of these mature Christians to do anything about the vast juvenile rabble who can't help themselves but mock and insult other religions.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:54 pm |
    • VeeRee

      It is important to remember that the group which gave Jesus problems was the mainstream religious group in his day ,,, the religion into which he was born.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
    • Frogist

      @PsiCop: I'm inclined to believe you. Unfortunately for christians, they are not following the golden rule. If they say nothing about this happening to Islam, then they shouldn't have a leg to stand on come any attack on Christianity. Of course, a lot of these same people are hypocrites so they don't really care either way.

      September 8, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
  20. Peter F

    Wait, Christians have to account for the Holocaust? I'm not so sure I agree with that one.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:38 pm |
    • ForReals

      Sure you do. Hitler was a Christian extremist.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
    • Robert Castle

      Anti-semitism was rampant and our government failed to assist in relocating those who were fleeing the Nazi invaders just for starters.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
    • Rytch Yunder

      Hitler was into the occult. He wanted to bring Germany back to what he claimed was pre-Christian glory. While it is true that many Nazi soldiers were devout Christians (a fact that induced many to show mercy at various times), it's not true that their leaders were Christian by any reasonable definition of the term.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:37 pm |
    • Peter F

      If anything, I would suggest Christians have to account for the Crusades... but Naziism? Uhh, I don't think so.

      September 8, 2010 at 3:45 am |
    • jedipunk

      Secular schools can never be tolerated because such a school has no religious instruction and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith. from our point of view as representatives of the state, we need believing people.
      -Hitler, [quoted from Helmreich, p.241]

      I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator.
      – Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Vol. 1 Chapter 2, speech made during negotiations leading to the Nazi-Vatican Concordant

      I agree that Hitler was interested in the Occult but I would argue that a lot of American Christians are as well. We have horoscopes in the paper, Ouija boards at toy stores, and a healthy interest in alternative medicines and therapies, like Yoga and transcendental meditation, that have roots in other religions.

      Aside from the above quotes, it is fairly common knowledge that the pope of the time did not make things harder on Hitler. The book Hitler's Pope evaluates his actions.

      September 8, 2010 at 8:13 am |
    • Deric

      did you hear this guy i wont call him a man of God.Did you hear him? A Muslim lady had the guts to come to my white town and dirty up my street with her none white self. That man is full of hate. Any one how stand / tape on tv and show to the world is no better than he is. Stupid.

      September 8, 2010 at 8:32 am |
    • Frogist

      @Peter F. :Prothero has mentioned in other articles the connection between nazism and anti-semitic sentiment in the Bible. He posits that the parts of the bible that negatively portray jews are used as kindling for the argument promoting anti-semitism. I do think he has a point about that. Christians and other religious people do have to own up to the negativity that can come from their beliefs. I suppose that's true of topics that have nothing to do with religion too. He is calling for greater responsibility for our stand points and maybe through that a greater understanding across lines.

      September 8, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
    • Dione

      Love thy neighbor as thyself. Unless Christians are willing to stand by while others burn the Bible, we should not participate in offending others in the same way.

      September 10, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
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