“If They Can Burn It, We Can Read It.
A UCC Minister’s Response to Burning the Qur’an.
The Creative Seminole
Larry Reimer, a minister of the United Church of Gainesville, has decided to read scripture from the Qur'an in worship service in response to a local Qur'an burning.
There are some things that really get under my skin. One of those things is religious intolerance, be it from Christians, Muslims, Jews, Agnostics, Pagans, Pastafarians, or the like.
It’s good to know that I’m not the only one, then, who sees Gainesville, Florida’s Dove World Outreach Center’s plan to burn as many copies of the Qur’an as possible a stab in the heart to groups of religious followers that care about tolerance. Larry Reimer is a minister at the United Church of Gainesville, a deep advocate of civil rights, and the man responsible for what seems to be a very intelligent response to Dove’s outlash at Islam.
“If they can burn it, then we can read it,” said Reimer from an armchair across from mine in his office, lined with bookshelves and photos from many events canvassing the years. On a side table next to me, there’s a statue of the Buddha, along with various other spiritually-themed trinkets that seem to indicate that this office does not belong to a spiritually firm-handed man.
Reimer, along with other Gainesville religious leaders, will read scripture from the Qur’an as part of worship services on Sunday, September 12.
When asked about how he came about with the idea, “Almost right away, members of the congregation here asked me, ‘what are we going to do about this?’ Originally, I had the intention of giving [Dove Center] no more attention in the media. But as I thought about it, I asked myself what we could do that would be effective and proactive in promoting cooperation among our religious relatives.”
I prodded further about religious relatives. “Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all part of the Abrahamic tree of faith. We all believe in the same God, and in many aspects we are all trying to accomplish the same goals. And in Islam, there are things that I think any follower of any other religion could learn from. Take prayer, for example. In Islam, one prays at least five times a day. The discipline to do that? Few of us have it. And like Christianity and Judaism, there is a strong call to love God and your neighbor.”
We chat on for a bit about the differences and similarities that each of the Abrahamic religions have when he says to me, “You know, we learn best from our rival siblings. We might not always agree with them, but they always point out our shortcomings. And in the end, we have the most in common with them. We pull from one another and make each whole.
“Look at FSU and UF, or Michigan and Ohio State. All students who grew up together, went to the same high schools, and in reality should be the most understanding of one another. Now that they’re on opposite sides of the stadium, they act like they have nothing in common. But they do, and if each member stopped for a minute and thought about it, they would realize they’re the same students, with the same dreams, looking and hoping to do the same things when they graduate.”
Then I ask him why he thinks these negative attitudes toward Islam exist. “The average American inherently assumes that Islam is violent and decidedly anti-American because we haven’t taken the time to experience Islam from an individual perspective or as a faith up close. A friend of mine was in Egypt when news of Dove Outreach’s Qur’an burning hit, and he told me that it was represented as mainstream Christianity, much in the same way that the violent acts we hear about here are represented as mainstream Islam. Here, Islam is still associated with terrorism. The acts of September 11th were not acts that were Islamic in nature. They were acts of fanatical extremists. And fanaticism is not confined to any one faith. I think that there’s no better time than September 12th to remind ourselves of this, and to read from Qur’an in worship to point out how much we really do have in common.”
Then I asked him the big one. If you could preach to the members of Dove Outreach Center for even five minutes, what would you say? “The danger to our faith comes not most from outside, but from the shadows within. We must pay attention to our neglect to look at ourselves, instead of automatically pointing the finger elsewhere. God’s call is for constant opening.”
Already, Larry has been interviewed for the New York Times. As of now, Fifteen religious leaders in Gainesville have agreed to share verses from the Qur’an on Sunday, September 12th. And he thinks that more will follow. “I’m not trying to make this a national or international event, but I feel that those who understand that allowing [the Qur'an burning] to pass silently by allows Dove Outreach to win in the fight against tolerance and religious compassion will stand up and share scripture from the Qur’an.”
Not a moment too soon. In the words of German poet Heinrich Heine written in 1820, now enshrined on a plaque at the site of Nazi Propoganda Minster Joseph Goebbels’ book burnings, “There, where they burn books, they will in the end burn people.”