Jail time for religious disharmony?
A news story a few months ago reported that Malaysian authorities were investigating two Muslims who sparked complaints after they pretended to be Christians and took communion at a church service. They said they were researching a magazine article.
A churchgoer filed a police complaint after reading an article in a Malay-language magazine written by a contributor who described how he attended a Roman Catholic Mass with his friend and hid his Muslim identity. The writer said they were trying to confirm rumors that Muslim teenagers were being converted to Christianity in churches every Sunday.
Police federal crime investigations chief Mohamad Bakri Zinin said officials were probing whether the men had caused religious disharmony - a crime that carries a prison sentence of up to five years.
Rev. Terry Jones and Rev. Wayne Sapp should be grateful they don't live in Malaysia.
Last September Rev. Jones, a pastor in Gainesville, Florida, stirred up quite a fuss when he called for people around the world to set fire to copies of the Koran. He designated September 11, 2010 as Burn A Koran Day and he hoped to set ablaze thousands of copies of the Muslim holy book on that day. After much controversy and international protest, he said he had made his point and did not carry out his plan.
However two weeks ago, on March 20, during a Dove World Outreach Center's Sunday service without any publicity and under the supervision of Jones, Pastor Wayne Sapp soaked a Quran in kerosene for an hour, held an event he said was a "trial" for the Muslim holy book. After the book was found "guilty", Sapp set the Quran on fire using a barbecue lighter.
I wonder what Rev. Jones and Rev. Sapp would have done if someone had set fire to the Bible, the holy book that Christians believe in?
Anger over the burning of the Muslim holy book has erupted into deadly violence for the past several days in Afghanistan, with demonstrators setting cars and shops ablaze in riots that have left at least five civilians dead, officials said. In Florida, Rev. Sapp called the events "tragic," but said he did not regret the actions of his church. If he had it o do over again, he said he would.
"I in no way feel like our church is responsible for what happened," Sapp said in a telephone interview last Friday.
I don't have to believe exactly what anyone else believes but one of the great blessings of this country is that I don't have to. My right to believe and the rights of others to do the same is protected. Thank God! I can continue to practice my faith and share my beliefs with others. And I will.
But before we begin to feel self-righteous, let us examine ourselves. Do our attitudes and actions sometimes cause "religious disharmony?" Maybe the results are not violence and death but perhaps confusion and hard feelings that hinder the work of the Church and the advancement of God's plans for us.
I certainly don't condone the actions of Revs. Jones and Sapp or the violent protests in Afghanistan. That would be easy to do, but I am reminded that before I try to remove the speck from another person's eye I need to remove the log from my own eye (Matthew 7:3-5).
[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," April 4, 2011. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]