Gainesville pastor Terry Jones previously led evangelicals in Germany

President Obama weighed-in to the growing controversy surrounding a Florida pastor who has said he will burn copies of the Koran this Saturday. President Obama said that notion goes against American ideals.
By Tara Bahrampour and Michelle Boorstein
Friday, September 10, 2010; 9:24 PM

Terry Jones, the pastor with the handlebar mustache whose plan to burn Korans on Sept. 11 caused international outrage, has left a colorful trail that spans the Atlantic Ocean, culminating in a surreal gathering in front of his church in Gainesville, Fla.

On the sprawling front lawn of the Dove World Outreach Center, Jones's 50-member church, 30 reporters ran Friday morning from one scene to another: Two evangelical ministers on their knees praying. A large man in an Army uniform screaming about Islam while holding a flag. Activity at the large warehouse that houses the church.

It wasn't clear what was going on inside -- the glass doors were covered with dark fabric. Members, including Jones's son Luke, occasionally stepped outside to give interviews. Church member Stephanie Sapp came out wearing shiny black heels, tight jeans, purple polish on her toes and a gun in a holster on her hip.

Luke Jones, a 29-year-old youth pastor at the church, said his father was leaving for New York "sometime" Friday and that the Koran-burning was off. Appearing in the entryway, wearing jeans and with a tattoo of blue stars and red stripes on his forearm, he said, "It's not a secret that there are a lot of good things in the Koran, but there's a lot of bad things, too."

Luke Jones said the FBI had been at the church four times in recent weeks and "begged us not to do this, said there were threats inside and outside the country."

Cpl. Tscharna Senn, a spokeswoman for the Gainesville police department, said law enforcement officials have spent a month preparing for this weekend and that, as of late Friday, "we've not changed our plan one bit," despite Terry Jones saying the event was canceled. "We're prepared for this event to go on."

Some members of the media said other journalists had stayed away, apparently out of concern that broadcasting images from the tiny church would be provocative.

The church has made local news in the past year for posting signs saying "Islam is of the Devil." Children of church members appeared in public schools last year wearing the slogan on T-shirts.

Asked about that, Luke Jones chuckled. "You know teenagers -- they get into politics," he said. "But if they want to do it, I think it's great. Kids take drugs and alcohol and do all kinds of sexual things and we don't mind that but if they speak their minds on politics, we get upset."

Complicated past in Europe

Although Terry Jones, 58, has been connected to Dove since at least the 1980s, he returned full time last year after he reportedly was kicked out of a charismatic evangelical church that he led for almost three decades in Cologne, Germany. He was sent to Germany by Dove founder Donald Northrup, and founded the Christian Community Cologne, according to the Gainesville Sun.

As a new church with "challenging teaching and modern music," it appealed to young people, so much that by the mid-1990s, the number of churchgoers grew to nearly 1,000, according to Pro, a Christian magazine in Germany that interviewed several former members. By then, they said, Jones was no longer spreading the Gospel so much as "creating his own empire."

According to an article the magazine published this week, Jones introduced a strict hierarchical structure that "functioned on the basis of command and obedience and created a climate of fear and control." The magazine said Jones and his wife, Sylvia, saw themselves as "the divinely ordained head of the community, which could not be undone by anyone mortal."

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company