China Revisited, Part I

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 9 September 2010 0 Comments
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I'd like to take the opportunity to let you know that both my husband and I, Catholics, have been enjoying your newsletters and your books. We have evolved away from the institutional church's thinking (although we still go to church and sing in the gospel choir) and look to scholars like you to inspire and inform us. A Presbyterian friend of mine with whom I have shared your newsletter asked if I would pass this question on to you. Would you please give it some consideration?

The attached letter came from Bill Millen:

Pastor Terry Jones and other members of the Dove World Outreach Center, a Florida church have planned an "International Burn a Koran Day" this September 11.

Pastor Jones writes: We are unconvinced that the "nice" church is winning against the Kingdom of darkness. God and God's people were not always sweet and loving to people and practices that were evil. We hope you will be interested in the book "Islam is of the Devil," a challenge to the Christian Church in general to come out of sleepiness and apathy. We hate the Koran.

This letter concerns me on many levels:

  • Lumping all of Islam as evil
  • Inspires hatred of a group of people
  • Burns more than a book — it burns a way of life, a people.


Dear Dr. Sommerfeldt and Bill Millen,

Thank you for your words and for bringing to my attention the letter from Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center.

That letter expresses an ignorance of what Christianity is that is breathtaking to say nothing about its ignorance of Islam. It is an attitude that reeks of tribal religion in a pre–modern world; it plays on the fears and hatred that tribal religion always engenders and it ultimately leads to the dehumanization of the book burners.

Islam has been instrumental in creating some very beautiful lives, while at the same time fundamentalist Christians have frequently revealed the very attitudes Pastor Jones seems to be condemning in the Koran. I remind my readers that it was the states of the Confederacy known then and now as the Bible Belt of the South that fought to preserve slavery, then to establish segregation and finally to save segregation with fire hoses, police dogs and murderous church bombings to save segregation. Remember that the final civil rights conviction for the murder of civil rights workers in Philadelphia, MS, was handed down only a few years ago on the Reverend Edgar Killan, who was described as an ordained Baptist minister and a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Christianity like Islam and every other religious system has produced members who are anything but ideal.

Pastor Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center do not understand the basic teachings of Christ, who enjoined us to love our enemies, to bless those who persecute us. Love alone transforms hatred. The kind of hatred Pastor Jones advocates never breeds anything but more hatred.

This action is an embarrassment to the Christian Church and, on behalf of many Christians, I apologize to the world and to Islam for this outrageous behavior emanating from those who claim to be the followers of Christ.

~John Shelby Spong




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