Religious leaders condemn plan to burn Koran on Sept. 11

By Tara Bahrampour and Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The plan by a tiny Florida church to burn Korans on Sept. 11 is drawing condemnation from top U.S. officials and religious leaders, including the White House, the State Department and Gen. David H. Petraeus, who warned Tuesday that it could endanger U.S. troops in the Muslim world.

At the Dove World Outreach Center, a 50-member evangelical Christian church in Gainesville, the Rev. Terry Jones told CNN on Tuesday that he is "taking the general's words very serious" and that "we are definitely praying about it," leaving open the possibility that the event could be canceled. But he also said the plan is firm and is meant as "a warning to radical Islam" that "if you attack us, we will attack you."

The 58-year-old pastor told the Associated Press that he has received more than 100 death threats and has started wearing a pistol strapped to his hip.

The planned burning of the holy book of Islam comes at a time of rising expression of anti-Muslim sentiment nationwide, and many fear that it will harm U.S. relations with the Muslim world as NATO troop levels increase in Afghanistan.

Already, repercussions have begun. On Monday in Kabul, protesters burned Jones in effigy and chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Obama."

In Washington, two dozen Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders from across the country gathered Tuesday for an Emergency Faith Leaders Summit on anti-Muslim sentiment.

"Religious leaders cannot stand by in silence when things like this are happening," Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the archbishop emeritus of Washington, said at a news conference. Burning the Koran, he warned, could be "taken by some as the real story of America, and it is not."

Actions and hate speech against Muslims "bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ," said the Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good and a former lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals.

Said the Rev. Gerald Durley, pastor at Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta: "From a Christian perspective, this is not what we stand for. This is a fringe group of individuals."

The circle of condemnation widened Tuesday to include White House spokesman Robert Gibbs; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; her spokesman P.J. Crowley, who called the planned burning "un-American"; and Petraeus, who compared the action to the behavior of the Taliban and said it could undermine U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Even the rumor that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul" on Monday, said Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan. "Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy, and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult."

Clinton added her disapproval at a dinner Tuesday evening in observance of Iftar, the breaking of the daily fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

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