Friday, August 28, 2009

A New Low in T-shirt "Evangelism"

I wasn't going to dignify this church's anti-Islam T-shirt campaign with a post, but one of the things I'm most upset about in the Christian church is how its intolerance always seems to end at its own door. So let me be clear:
Mr. Terry Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center do not speak for me. If I may be permitted to say so this strongly, I do not think he and his church speak for Jesus, either. Not the Jesus I've come to know, anyway.
The irony is enough to make you cry: A church named after the symbol of peace making money on a T-shirt that defames the belief system of one third of the world's people. (I was kind of hoping we'd gotten past the bumper-sticker Christianity stage, but I see now that we've only graduated to the T-shirt stage.) Has anyone at the Dove church has ever actually spoken to a Muslim, let alone tried to find out what Muslims really believe?

I'll also bet that in the entire history of Dove Church in Gainesville, there has not been nor will there ever be a "conversion" of a single Muslim. Can you possibly guess why that may be?

Why would a Muslim want to come anywhere near the place? What about "Islam is of the devil" communicates God's love for Muslims? What about Dove's "Islam is of the Devil" campaign is remotely likely to attract a Muslim to the church or convince him or her that he or she might find something better at Dove church?

It's easy to galvanize a group against something. This pastor has taken the classic pastor's easy way out: Appeal to the worst in human nature. (Second only to building programs, which American Christians have a particular fondness for, because its a concrete mark of success, anti-whatever movements are the best way to get people to forget their differences and pull together in a fight against a perceived threat.) Did I mention it is lazy? Hypocritical?

Used to be Christians took pot shots at each other. That's why there are literally hundreds of denominations, many of which believe they, alone, are the true worshipers, the true bearers of God's image in the world, and that all others are headed to hell or fall far short of heaven. I sat under a Protestant pastor for a few years, who believed the Catholic church was of the devil (The Roman Catholics, he thought, were the great Harlot mentioned the book of Revelation). That was one of the many reasons I left that particular church.

Now, I guess we've tired of waging wars of words with each other and have turned our sights outward to the watching world. Now everyone can see what only those of us on the inside have had to witness for so many years.

In the Scriptures, the only folks Jesus ever identified with the devil were the hyper-religious folk who thought they had a corner on righteousness and therefore had the right to pass judgment on others. I always thought there was a message there for us. I just can't imagine Jesus with an "Islam is of the Devil" T-shirt on. But then again, I'm no Bible scholar.

At times like these, I wonder why I stick around. I have lots of friends who no longer go to church. They're Christians, but they've disowned the organized church. They are embarrassed by it.

I still hang in there. Christian churches aren't all like Dove, of course. But they all get tarred with the same brush every time something like this happens. Unfortunately, there lurks in every one of them that awful tendency to look out at the world (and each other) not with love but fear, and therefore open the door to hate, which is the classic coping mechanism of choice for the fearful. Pastors are always calling the flock to "take a stand" against that which they do not understand and, therefore, greatly fear. Leprosy, these days, takes many forms.

The apostle John said, "Perfect love casts out fear." We Christians have always had a tough time with that one. Hopefully, Dove is, if nothing else, a teachable moment for the rest of us. Who knows? Maybe Dove World Outreach Center itself will come to its senses and aspire to live up to its name. I still believe in miracles. I just haven't seen very many lately.

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