Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
We inform. You decide.
Tuesday, June 25, 2024

As he laid his Bible and handgun ever so carefully down on a music stand, Terry Jones slowly made his way to the pulpit to deliver his sermon.

For all the sweeping vows and charged rhetoric he has delivered  in the past several months, Jones, the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center,  let his hands do most of the talking Sunday.

They pounded with every rising cadence, pointed outward to the enemies beyond the church’s walls and drew inward to call upon those gathered to stand up for “the truth.”

It’s these hands, most people say, that are responsible for the the blood spilled in Afghanistan as at least 21 people have been killed in the last three days in reaction to the church’s  burning of the Quran, which took place March 20 under Jones’ direction.

But that’s for the outside world. On this Sunday, Jones is leading his flock through the Book of Joshua and how the Israelities crossed the Jordan River while carrying the covenant.

The river was wet, dirty and muddy, Jones tells his followers. There may have been bugs and mosquitoes there to nibble on flesh.

This was not a time for democracy or votes. In order for Joshua’s people to survive, Jones says, they needed to obey.

“It took many strong men to carry the covenant,” he says. “ It was not easy, but you know what it was? It was a privilege and an honor.”

Now, the time has come, Jones tells his audience, for the church to carry its covenant. Like Martin Luther King Jr., the founding fathers in the American Revolution and the first Christians, they must be willing to take a chance.

“When the Civil Rights Movement first happened, many people died. Does that make [King] wrong?” Jones asks the crowds.

“NO!” the worshipers answer in reply. 

Later, Jones tells them, “ Why do I do what I do? I do simply what I do because I’m more afraid of God than I am of you.”

Enjoy what you're reading? Get content from The Alligator delivered to your inbox

That fear, Jones says, cannot be overpowered by any threats of violence against him or his church.

“There’s only one way to stop me,” Jones says.

“Kill me.”

- - -

It took one phone call to ruin Garrett Garner’s Friday.

With his mind far from City Hall, Garner, a policy assistant for Mayor Craig Lowe, sat on his couch, his television flashing black-and-white images of a World War II documentary.

Then Lowe called.

His Friday, Lowe told Garner, had just gotten a lot worse.

Immediately, Garner flipped open his computer and went to Google News to find out what all the commotion was about.

Then, he saw it: “Afghanistan … Koran burning … Gainesville church … people dead.”

No more day off.

Within minutes, Garner was at City Hall working with the mayor and communications manager Bob Woods on a response.

Although an upbeat person by nature, Lowe was irritated by the news. The “Dove problem” was nothing new for Lowe. These were the people who held his city hostage to the national spotlight in September. These were also the people who had put out a video online that called for “no homo mayor” when he was running for office last year.

For Lowe, these people were more than a nuisance. They were an embarrassment to his city. Later that afternoon, Lowe addressed the media.

“The world we live in is a volatile place,” Lowe said. “While there is absolutely no justification for these horrific deaths and injuries, Terry Jones and his followers were quite aware that his actions could trigger these types of events.”

While police stepped up their presence around the church, Lowe assured those in attendance there was no need to panic.

But would the mayor reach out to the pastor? If he felt it would lead somewhere, Lowe said, then he would.

For the mayor, Terry Jones is a lost cause.

- - -

Ismail ibn Ali knew the questions would be coming once he turned on his television.

Ibn Ali, the president of Islam on Campus at UF,  had heard all the arguments against his faith, which holds more than a billion followers worldwide.

He knew the violence in Afghanistan would lead to the same criticism.

But it still hurts.

“To have this behavior in Afghanistan is really sad because this is the reaction Terry Jones wanted,” ibn Ali said. “It’s just a really sad situation.”

Despite the publicity the city has drawn from the events in Afghanistan, ibn Ali said Gainesville is still a good town to be a Muslim in, even if one church wants to tell the world otherwise.

“I could take any creed, twist it and give you a reason to do something bad,” he said. “This act of violence [in Afghanistan] is not something any Muslim would say is justified.”

Although ibn Ali wouldn’t say what happened in Afghanistan was all Jones’ fault, he said the pastor carries some responsibility. Then again, he said, these are people who have nothing to lose.

But, for now, he prays.

“I just hope that everyone keeps cool-headed,” ibn Ali said, “and that wisdom prevails.”

- - -

Wayne Sapp knew what was coming when he put the flame to the book. The gun on his waist testifies to the lingering thought that someone, somewhere wants him dead. 

He said he feels sympathy for the victims and their families.

He asserted he never would harm a Muslim, let alone kill one. But God’s work, he said, needed to be done.

“It’s like a snake being in a bed with a bunch of babies,” said Sapp, Jones’ second-in-command. “Do you just let it continue to creep and let it breed, or do you reach in and get it?”

Reaching in, however, comes at a price.

“We’re human beings. Of course we have moments of fear,” said Luke Jones, the senior pastor’s son and a pastor at the church. “When the world comes raining down on you, you feel the emotion.”

That doesn’t mean the church has any plans to stop preaching its controversial message anytime soon.

As Sapp unfastened his tie after Sunday’s service, one thing was clear: if he could, he’d do it again.

“We’re not in this for the fireworks; we’re not in this for the show,” the younger Jones said. “We’re not going away.”

Support your local paper
Donate Today
The Independent Florida Alligator has been independent of the university since 1971, your donation today could help #SaveStudentNewsrooms. Please consider giving today.

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Independent Florida Alligator and Campus Communications, Inc.