News this morning of the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens invokes a great deal of emotion, both anger toward the individuals who attacked his car and the three co-workers with him, and toward those who deliberately worked to provoke violence. At the center of this once again is the infamous Florida pastor, Terry Jones, who incited violence in 2010 by his threat to burn copies of the Quran.
I have no sympathy for anyone who would assassinate a U.S. ambassador. But I have even less sympathy for filmmakers who spread hatred and for pastors who knowingly incite violence. Jones, and his love of the limelight, needs no further introduction. This latest incident seems to have been sparked by his promotion of a $5 million film produced and directed by Sam Bacile, a filmmaker living in Los Angeles. Being both a filmmaker and a pastor, I can relate to the responsibility both offices carry.
In 2010 I had a first-person look at the power of love and saw it triumph over hate. It was September when Jones first received his notoriety. The national press was giving him a 24/7 pulpit to proclaim his message that "Islam is of the Devil" and to threaten to deface copies of the holy scripture of 1.5 billion human beings. His motivation was, in his mind, a religious obligation. The real religious leadership of America saw it differently, and voices like Rabbi David Saperstein, Rev. Richard Cizik and Theodore Cardinal McCarrick gathered at the National Press Club to voice their solidarity with Muslims in America and around the world. It was a beautiful, inspiring moment that set the national discourse in a more generous, positive direction.
Rev. Cizik and I talked after the event. We agreed that the only person Jones might listen to would be another Christian evangelical. If we could find someone who Jones could respect, perhaps he might listen to reason and drop his threats. Little did we know that God was preparing just such a person to carry out this mission.
In a film I prepared after these events entitled, "Islam in America: The Christian Truth," Rev. Rob Schenck, a controversial pastor serving a ministry in Washington, D.C., describes his encounter with Jones as he traveled to Gainesville, Fla. Schenck, one of the founders of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, told me that he took seriously the biblical notion that "when it is within your power to do good, DO IT." Schenck obtained an agreement from Jones to not burn the Quran, something not even President Obama or General Petraus could obtain. Fearing that Jones might renege on his promise, Schenck took Jones' copies of the Quran to a warehouse in northern Virginia, where he distributes them to Christians who wish to have positive, meaningful engagement with their local Muslim communities.
Which is the true story of America? Is it that of hatred that stokes violence or of friends who join hands across religious lines to work for the good of all? Those who attacked Amb. Stevens, thanks to sociopaths like Terry Jones and filmmaker Sam Bacile, believe we are a violent people bent on domination. Sadly, there is some truth to that perception. But through the example of Rev. Schenck and others who have so effectively bridged the gap that often exists between persons of different religious views, I believe that goodness and love is the true story of America, and certainly of the evangelical community. Goodness and love, however, rarely make good news. It's time that they do.
Schenck was able to stop Jones in 2010 because they shared a similar language. Their common biblical language is so full of the language of love, compassion and forgiveness that the few who twist its meaning that Jones had to take note. Regrettably, Christian evangelicals have a reputation of standing on the side of exceptionalism and even bigotry. It's high time that we evangelicals listen to the command of Jesus to love our neighbors, even our enemies, and that those of us who strive to follow this command get out and speak, in the spirit of love, to those who sow seeds of fear and hate.
Sam Bacile and Terry Jones must be stopped. Evangelicals are the ones who can stop them.