All of the Bigotry, None of the Book Burning
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Apr 08, 2011 at 11:33:42 PM EST
Rev. Dr. Albert Mohler, a leader of the Religious Right and the influential president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has joined the infamous Rev.Terry Jones in demonizing Islam.  

Writing at The Christian Post, Mohler sought to distance himself from the crude, publicity-seeking Jones, who recently made international news for having burned a Qu'ran in Florida, sparking rioting in Afghanistan and the murder of a number of UN workers.  But in so doing, Mohler slyly managed to demonstrate that the difference between them is more a matter of style than substance.

Mohler wrote:  
The case of Florida pastor Terry Jones presents Christians with an easy judgment but a difficult dilemma. This publicity-seeking pastor of a tiny congregation deserves to be condemned in every way for his act of putting the Qur'an "on trial" and for then burning a copy in a staged act of inflammatory showmanship. The judgment is the easy part.

The "judgment" Mohler is referring to, is the verdict of Jones's kangaroo court that the Qu'ran was guilty of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, and terrorism.  The "difficult dilemma" according to Mohler, is different:

The difficult dimension of this is the fact that even our condemnation gives this pastor what he most desires - public attention.

I tried to give Mohler a generous reading, but I think that for all of his careful wording, he makes clear that he agrees with Jones's assessment of Islam and the Qu'ran and differs with him only in his crude and reckless theatrics.  Since Mohler himself is not shy about seeking publicity for his views, it would seem that the only real difference between Mohler and Jones is that he would not go so far as to burn a Qu'ran to get it.

Here is more:

Pastor Jones is not wrong to see Islam as a way that leads millions of people away from the message of the Gospel, and thus to spiritual death.

Those who responded to his actions with murder have blood on their hands, and they demonstrated a key distinction between Islam and Christianity. Christians are not called to defend the honor of our Savior or of the Bible. The Islamic sense of honor leads to what are even called honor killings.

First, let's first observe that Mohler utilizes one of the standard methods of the bigot:   The broad brush.  Not all Muslims are riotous and violent.  The overwhelming number are not -- even when their faith and sacred text is so violently and provocatively attacked by the likes of Terry Jones.  In fact, few behave in this way.  Most Muslims condemn it.  

Second, Mohler then tees-off of the word "honor" to smear all of Islam with another stroke of the broad brush.  Some Muslims engage in the horrific practice of  "honor killing."  This is the practice of killing members of one's own family, usually women, who are believed to have dishonored them by committing adultery or otherwise defiling the honor of a family or community.   It is a widespread problem, but it is also far from universal, and is in fact, condemned by many Muslims.  

What's more, Mohler's disingenuous claims aside, religiously motivated violence is certainly not unique to Islam.  To offer a few examples, Christian conservatives of various sorts, albeit a tiny minority, have been responsible for anti-abortion violence in the United States, and conservative Anglicans (with close ties to the American religious right) have been involved in sectarian violence in Nigeria.  And we might point to the use of "imprecatory prayer" by a wide swath of conservative Christians, to call the wrath of God down on perceived enemies from Barack Obama, to abortion providers, to John McCain, to the staff of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.  Rev. Wiley Drake, the former Second Vice President of the Mohler's own Southern Baptist Convention, is among the more notorious practitioners of imprecatory prayer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is not Mohler's first foray into inflammatory religious bigotry.  As reported by Religion News Service he made news in 2000 when he called the Roman Catholic Church "a false church" that "teaches a false gospel."


Appearing on CNN's "Larry King Live," Al Mohler was speaking on Pope John Paul II's pilgrimage to Israel and his recent apologies for the past sins of the Catholic Church. While stopping short of calling the Catholic Church a "cult," Mohler said the Catholic hierarchy is unbiblical.

     "As an evangelical, I believe the Roman church is a false church and it teaches a false gospel," Mohler said. "I believe the pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office." ...

     Mohler also criticized the pope's efforts to create a dialogue with Jews and Muslims...  The pope "has actually embraced all monotheists, both Jews and the followers of Islam, as long as they're sincere within the penumbra of the gospel, within the canopy of the gospel," Mohler said. "And that is just unbiblical, and by the way, not very pleasing to either Jews or to Muslims."

One of the tasks faced by those of us who value religious pluralism, freedom of conscience, and separation of church and state, is reconciling our personal beliefs with those of our fellow citizens. (By this I mean, staying true to our own beliefs and principles while maintaining the necessary respect for the views of others, even when we profoundly disagree.)   These values overlap but are necessarily closely related.  Taken together, these values are critical for us in getting along with one another, and operating a government that serves the interests of all without slipping into sectarianism, and inoculating society against the ravages of religious, bigotry, persecution and warfare  -- as unambiguously intended by the framers of the Constitution.

Our best efforts not withstanding, there are always slick religious supremacists who achieve a certain notoriety through their divisiveness.  Mohler is an influential leader in the Southern Baptist Convention and beyond, and because that is so, his sly endorsement of Jones's views of Islam should not go unnoticed and unchallenged.

that book burning is not the only way to inflame.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Apr 09, 2011 at 12:36:00 AM EST

...for your many insightful posts, I must disagree with you in part on your reading of Pastor Mohler's article.

I believe Pastor Mohler's" easy judgment" for Christians is the one that results in condemnation of Pastor Jones's inflammatory act of desecration of the Qur'an -- a hateful act intended to incite others to even more hateful action. The dilemma is that Christians -- or any of us -- cannot make our condemnation known publicly without rewarding Pastor Jones with the publicity he seeks.

Pastor Mohler's later statement, I think, makes this clearer:

Pastor Jones and his church incited a riot, and put human lives in jeopardy. There is no excuse for theatrics as a substitute for Gospel ministry....He put human lives at jeopardy for a publicity stunt.

I agree with this statement and am glad to see it made.

I disagree with Pastor Mohler in his so-called Christian interpretation of Islam, and I strongly oppose the broad-brush tactics you so clearly pointed out. But I do want to acknowledge truth when I see it.

by Khalila RedBird on Sat Apr 09, 2011 at 02:10:44 PM EST

Let's look at another passage from Mohler's essay that I think supports my view.

Pastor Jones and his church incited a riot, and put human lives in jeopardy. There is no excuse for theatrics as a substitute for Gospel ministry.

That is the main issue here, from a Christian perspective. Pastor Jones is not wrong to see Islam as a way that leads millions of people away from the message of the Gospel, and thus to spiritual death.[emphasis added]

Mohler expresses no disagreement with Jones on the substance of his inflammatory stance towards Islam. That he did not wish to soil himself by directly agreeing with Jones's inflammatory statements is consistent with the rest of his dishonest methodology. It gives him a certain plausible deniability. But you will have to forgive me for not accepting the idea that he can denounce the book burning but not also bring himself to denounce the inflammatory words, and in fact stating he agrees with Jones, is anything but a statement of agreement. (Albeit a winking statement of agreement.)

Jones's insultingly provocative charges against the Qu'ran, which were internationally publicized and might well have sparked similar reactions even without the burning were worthy of condemnation as well.  Indeed, his failure to directly address Jones's words except to express agreement, is consistent with his broad brush attack on Islam.

As for the "judgment" I agree with your point in part.  I think he is trying to have it both ways by referring to the judgment one makes in condemning Jones's theatrics, and the judgment  being made about Islam.

This is how it often goes with slippery characters like Mohler who seek to distinguish themselves from disreputable sorts without having to really disagree with them.  It is an artful piece of writing intended for multiple audiences.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Apr 09, 2011 at 03:08:45 PM EST

Mr. Clarkson, I read Mr. Mohler's article, and your last two paragraphs, above, sums up exactly how I felt walking away from his pontification.  I could almost smell the pride and self-righteousness wafting up from his words. An "artful piece piece of writing intended for multiple purposes", indeed.

Mr Mohler's article is double-edged, and surreptitiously full of judgement.  All I can say is, WOW.

by OneOfTheWatchers on Sun Apr 10, 2011 at 01:36:27 PM EST

I can believe that Mr. Rev. Dr. Mohler or whoever wrote his response had that in mind with this little word game. Just as they have no problems posing outright bigoted and divisive diatribes and then unapologetically rescinding them after they've had a chance around the echo-chamber a couple of rounds first. Lawyers might get in trouble for continuously posing outlandish scenarios and "questions", but these charlatans only see more proof of their persecution, at least as they assert it to the faithful.

by trog69 on Sat Apr 09, 2011 at 09:58:04 PM EST

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