Another Book Burner Lusts for Attention

When Terry Jones, the cartoon-mustached pastor in Florida, threatened to burn a Qur’an on September 11, I read many complaints about how nobody ever paid that much attention or showed that much outrage when people burned Bibles. Well, here’s their chance to get their rage pants on.

The Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, N.C. will celebrate Halloween by burning Bibles that aren’t the King James Version, as well as music and books and anything else Pastor Marc Grizzard says is a satanic influence.

The church is burning other Bible translations that are not based on the “Textus Receptus,” and are, therefore, according to Grizzard, not the true word of God. Yes, the burning will include the Qur’an, along with books by “heretics” like Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne, and Bishop John Shelby Spong. Those are the heretics you might expect Grizzard and his kind to burn.

Also on his list, however, the materials of other “heretics” like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, Rick Warren, Bob Jones, Charles Stanley, Joel Osteen, Joyce Myers, T.D. Jakes, and even the newly beleaguered Eddie Long. Even Mother Teresa makes his list of heretics. Apparently, feeding the poor and clothing the naked makes one a “heretic” in Grizzard’s book (don’t tell Jesus!). Fred Phelps didn’t make the list, so that should be a hint of just who Grizzard’s fellow believers might look like.

On their website (NB: mute your computer unless your idea of a good time is Amazing Grace on an infinite loop), they encourage other churches to hold similar book burnings, or book “tearings” if local laws prohibit open fires. If all else fails, you can send your blasphemous material to Grizzard who will do the deed for you at their annual event.

The church apparently burned books and other materials last year on Halloween. Grizzard does not give a specific date for this year’s burning—and just to differentiate himself from Jones (whom he denounced as a “coward” for backing down from his plans to burn the Qur’an), Grizzard makes it clear that the public is not invited:

We are inviting others to come but only by special invitation by me and me alone. I must know you personally, or your pastor, or if you wrote me last year in agreement with what we are doing. I may ask for your church’s name, phone number, and Web site to verify your stand.

What I see as the sin at the heart of Grizzard and Jones’ actions—as well as at the heart of anyone who seeks to violently control the free will or belief of others—is lust. These men lust for control; and in their lust they objectify others, people they call “heretics” or “sinners.”

Lust, in and of itself, is not a bad thing—not something sinful. As Matthew Fox writes, “Without lust, none of us would be here.” It was the lust of our parents that created us, the lust of the animals that provide us with their companionship, their meat, and their wonder. It’s the lust of flowers and grains and insects that make this earth flourish. It is when “lust becomes a vehicle for objectifying,” Fox writes, “it is no longer an intimate expression or a generative one, it is a power that needs checking, a stallion that needs bridling, a force that needs tempering.”

Grizzard, Jones, and others like them are the products of lust gone wrong—and that turns them into sadists who need to control others. As psychologist Erich Fromm has observed, “The sadistic character is afraid of everything that is not certain and predictable, that offers surprises which would force him to spontaneous and original reactions. For this reason, he is afraid of life. Life frightens him precisely because it is by its very nature unpredictable and uncertain. It is structured but it is not orderly.”

These men want order, and they will do whatever they can to quash the uncertainty of life. The King James is the only true Bible, Grizzard asserts, and in his assertion he makes his life certain—he’s right and others are wrong.

But, perhaps we can have more sympathy for Grizzard and those who believe as he does when we see them for what they are—people who are afraid of the messiness of life—people who cannot control their lust. These are people who need to be shown that there can be a healthy lust for life that affirms not just their lives, but the lives of the very different, yet Holy, people all around them.

Instead of condemning people like Grizzard and Jones, perhaps we need to look deeper at our own reactions to their actions. If we react by wanting to stop them, or denounce them,  or to control them, then we are just as much a slave to our own lust for control as they are.

May we all, then, seek to find the Amazing Grace this church has named itself after.

Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians and currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008)