The governing council of the United Methodist Church of the U.S. wants to make clear to American Muslims that its members firmly condemn the burning of the holy Qur’an and other acts of disrespect for Islam—and it’s putting its money where its mouth is. Noting with alarm the violence and danger to human life entailed in several retaliatory church burnings that occurred in Pakistan as the inevitable backlash to the provocative actions of Rev. Terry Jones, the United Methodists have made a very special offer to the worldwide Muslim community, to show their spiritual unity with Muslims who feel themselves threatened as a result of Jones’ actions.
At a press conference at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria attended by Rev. Jesse Jackson, Catholic Abp. Theodore McCarrick of Newark, religious scholar Karen Armstrong, and Egyptian sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Methodist Bishop Walter M. Itty issued the following statement:
“Every time a Qur’an is burned every religious believer in the world is threatened with harm. Each time a bigoted individual offends the sensibilities of a billion Islamic believers around the world by mocking or depicting the prophet Muhammad, each of us is sick at heart. We people of faith will not permit ourselves to be divided against each other by the apostles of intolerance. We will, we will not be moved. I noted with particular grief in recent days the latest, unavoidable consequence of Rev. Jones’ irresponsible and hurtful actions: the destruction of three churches in faraway Pakistan—attacks that entailed armed militants, the hurling of stones, and fires in which civilians could well have been injured. It is fortunate that fire-fighters did not reach any of these churches in time, or those public servants also might have been hurt. I hope that Rev. Jones looks deep into his conscience, and asks himself in prayer how much more damage he is willing to inflict on people of faith worldwide.”
Pausing for a moment, overcome by emotion, Bishop Itty continued by making a pledge of “unconditional solidarity” with Muslims worldwide. “I want to offer my Muslim friends a solemn promise: On the next occasion when someone commits such a bigoted act against Muslims, when a Qur’an is burned or desecrated anywhere in the world, we in the United Methodist community will respond promptly and concretely, by demolishing one of our own church buildings—safely, with the help of licensed explosives professionals, and under the supervision of the relevant local Islamic authorities. There is no need for armed militants or the use of force; I have asked Sheik Qaradawi to work with me and with Muslim groups in foreign countries to make sure that this process is orderly and non-violent, in the hope that we can take what might be a moment that divides Christians from Muslims, and instead make it into a celebration of unity.”
In a brief follow-up statement, Sheik Qaradawi accepted Bishop Itty’s offer. “We are willing to undertake this, out of honor for the prophet Isa (Peace be upon him), and as an act of mercy toward these People of the Book.”