Terry Jones, remember him? He was the so-called pastor/prophet of the Florida-based Dove Outreach Center who had a hankering for burning stuff. The Koran. Effigies of Obama. His own character. My students at Central Washington University used to get so fired up when I would lecture about Jones. Students who had brothers or sisters serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. They felt correctly that Jones’s inflammatory rhetoric would endanger American soldiers.
Following the 9/11 attacks, Jones took to the Internet and issued a call for an International Day of Burning the Koran. He ended up hosting the book burning himself at his Florida fraud church. That then led to a retaliatory action by Afghan extremists, who stormed the UN and killed a dozen people, including American soldiers.The Defense Department and Homeland Security and everyone else tried to warn Terry Jones that his stupidity could and most likely would put American military in harm’s way. Secretary Robert M. Gates and Gen. David H. Petraeus warned him his actions were endangering the lives of U.S. military personnel.
But you know how headstrong arrogant men can be.
As I pointed out to my mostly enraged students, the First Amendment makes allowances for people like Jones. Freedom to practice one’s religion is one of the primary tenets of our way of life. It was that freedom to practice one’s own religion, and not a state-mandated one, that enticed people to cross the big pond for the Americas. Much as we might disdain the way some people exercise their First Amendment right to practice religion or to peacefully assemble, for the most part we’ve always understood that these are necessary rights if we ever hope to keep our nation free from tyranny.
Thankfully, most Americans collectively condemned Terry Jones and recognized there was nothing Christian about his behavior. We reviled him for his meanness. We cursed him for his bigotry. We prayed for the victims and took solace in the fact that one day God would set things right with Terry Jones and it wouldn’t be pretty at all.
Except for the few fringe white nationalist groups, by and large Jones’s behavior was roundly vilified.
Nobody went on CNN or NPR or FoxNews and suggested that all Jones needed was a little understanding. Nobody was going around saying that Jones represented Southern Evangelicals and their way of life and we needed to build a bridge of understanding in order to prevent such future threats. Nor did anyone suggest that Jones represented Midwest Conservatives (he is a native of Missouri). Or that he was acting out because he, like other Conservatives, felt neglected by the rest of America .
Americans almost unilaterally agreed that Jones’s actions were despicable. Most Americans understood that what Jones did was not born of religion but of hate. Not representative of Christ. Nor was it representative of America, a nation built upon the coming together of people of different faiths and beliefs and ways of life. A nation of Natives and all the rest of us – all immigrants.
I dare say the bulk of people considered Terry Jones three pickles shy of a whopper.
His DNA was off plumb.
I would show my students excerpts of Jones’s online rants. We would all feel dirty and nauseated afterwards.
How could such a hateful bigoted man draw such worldwide attention?
What made him so demented towards people of other faiths?
Nobody reputable ever suggested that we need to give Jones a chance to prove himself a better man. It was widely accepted that Jones was a blowhard in search of money and attention.
But that was awhile back.
Back when we could pretty much collectively agree that the tenets of our Constitution and Bill of Rights were laws that were time-honored and true. Not perfect, perhaps, but pretty darn great way of building a society where the common good was the law of order.
Back before we would give people like Jones unlimited access to center stage on national news shows.
Back before we would make people like Jones international celebrities.
Back when a man’s word mattered.
Back when the way a man treated others mattered.
Back before Jones took a job as a fry cook in a strip mall.
Back before we put a man as emotionally-unbalanced and character-deficient as Jones into the highest office in the land.
The next time someone suggest you have to make nice, quit protesting, quit speaking out and just get along with Donald Trump, or the people who continue to foolishly support him, ask them if they felt the same way about Terry Jones.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of BURDY and the forthcoming CHRISTIAN BEND (Mercer University Press).