Jim Wallis on the story behind Pastor Terry Jones's change of heart
By Jim Wallis, Washington Post, September 19, 2010
It is easy to believe that hostility toward Muslims is on the rise in America. Media coverage of the battle over the proposed Islamic community center in New York, together with the hateful rants of Florida pastor Terry Jones, who threatened to burn Korans on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, paints a picture of tension between faiths.
But this narrative of constant conflict doesn't tell the whole story. In my work with religious communities across the country, I have seen interfaith relationships strengthened in recent years, not in spite of 9/11 but because of it. And these connections helped avert a tragic conclusion to the Jones saga last weekend.
Although the media focused on the role that political and military officials, including President Obama and Gen. David Petraeus, played in getting Jones to back down from his plan for a Koran bonfire, the faith community also had a key part. Religious leaders from many traditions condemned Jones's threats, while behind the scenes, a number of us reached out to stop Jones and support Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the proposed Islamic community center in New York.
Even before Jones's threats, I had been in close dialogue for several weeks with the imam and his wife, Daisy Khan. I have been friends with Rauf since a few months after the 2001 attacks, when we participated in a forum on religious fundamentalism at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York. From his words that day, I trusted him and knew that we would be able to work together as peacemakers between faiths.
The storm around the imam, his wife and their proposed community center was already bad enough when, on Thursday, Sept. 9, it threatened to get a lot worse. That afternoon, Jones announced that he would be heading up to the Big Apple to talk with the imam on the 9/11 anniversary. He seemed to think that he could leverage his Koran-burning threat to pressure Rauf to move his center -- in the process getting even more attention. The idea was offensive: It suggested a moral equivalence between burning the holy book of a billion people and building an interfaith center, and it presumed that one of the world's most important and courageous moderate Muslim leaders should bargain with the irresponsible, incoherent pastor of a tiny church.
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