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The devil in Mr. Jones

I’m not sure it’s actually worthwhile to delve too deeply into the mind of Terry Jones. He’s far from the only Islamophobe in America, and his reasoning behind the Qur’an burning wouldn’t matter too much even if it were abundantly clear– which it isn’t. A valid argument can be made that paying any more attention to him than is absolutely necessary is part of the problem, since people can’t get outraged about that of which they’re unaware in the first place. Still, since my blog is about as far from mainstream media attention as you can get, I’ll note a few things about him.

The New York Times, which certainly is mainstream media, did a profile on Jones yesterday describing him as nearly broke, unrepentant, and disliked by his community in Gainesville to the extent that he’s contemplating moving:

“It was intended to stir the pot; if you don’t shake the boat, everyone will stay in their complacency,” Mr. Jones said in an interview at his office in the Dove World Outreach Center. “Emotionally, it’s not all that easy. People have tried to make us responsible for the people who are killed. It’s unfair and somewhat damaging.” . . . “Did our action provoke them?” the pastor asked. “Of course. Is it a provocation that can be justified? Is it a provocation that should lead to death? When lawyers provoke me, when banks provoke me, when reporters provoke me, I can’t kill them. That would not fly.” Mr. Jones, 59, with his white walrus moustache, craggy face and basso profundo voice, seems like a man from a different time. Sitting at his desk in his mostly unadorned office, he keeps a Bible in a worn brown leather cover by his side and a “Braveheart” poster within sight. Both, he said, provide spiritual sustenance for the mission at hand: Spreading the word that Islam and the Koran are instruments of “violence, death and terrorism.” In recent weeks, Mr. Jones said, he had received 300 death threats, mostly via e-mail and telephone, and had been told by the F.B.I. that there was a $2.4 million contract on his life.

The article does not note something discussed last year when Jones initially threatened to celebrate National Burn a Koran Day, which is that he moved to Florida originally from Cologne, Germany, where he had founded the Christian Community of Cologne in 1982.  This Pentecostal church still exists, but Jones was kicked out for reasons which apparently had a lot to do with his personality and leadership. Der Spiegel reported:

Former church members are still undergoing therapy as a result of “spiritual abuse,” Schäfer said. According to Schäfer, Jones urged church members to beat their children with a rod and also taught “a distinctive demonology” and conducted brainwashing. “Terry Jones appears to have a delusional personality,” speculates Schäfer. When he came to Germany in the 1980s, Jones apparently considered Cologne “a city of Hell that was founded by Nero’s mother,” while he thought Germany was “a key country for the supposed Christian revival of Europe,” Schäfer says. Terry Jones used his powers of persuasion to expand the congregation. By the end, Schäfer estimates, it numbered between 800 and 1,000 people. They had to work in the so-called “Lisa Jones Houses,” charitable institutions named after his first wife who has since died, under very poor conditions. Jones became increasingly radical as the years went by, former associates say. At one point he wanted to help a homosexual member to “pray away his sins.” Later he began to increasingly target Islam in his sermons. A congregation member reported that some members were afraid to attend services because they expected to be attacked by Muslims. “Terry Jones has a talent for finding topical social issues and seizing on them for his own cause,” says Schäfer. By the end of 2007, the community had had enough. Members confronted him and tried to change the direction of the church. But Terry Jones refused to make changes, they say. In the end, Jones, his wife and their fellow preachers were expelled from the church and he moved back to the US. “The community imploded,” says Schäfer. It only has some 80 active members today.

The article in the Guardian contains this confusing passage:

After Jones’s dismissal, a new dispute broke out over allegations that he owed the community a five-figure sum of money, Thomas Müller, a community member, told regional newspaper Der Westen. Jones eventually repaid the money, Müller said. The paper said Jones arrived in Cologne at the behest of the US businessman Donald Northrup, the founder of the Dove World Outreach Centre that Jones now leads, in order to establish a branch of the Community of Gainesville.     

So…a US businessman sent Jones to Cologne, from which he was later evicted due to being radical and abusive, so that he could establish a new church in Gainesville Florida? What?  According to Wikipedia,

The Dove World Outreach Center was founded in 1985 by Donald O. Northrup, his wife Delores, and co-pastor Richard H. Wright. The church was initially a branch of the now defunct Maranatha Campus Ministries. Northrup remained with Dove World from its inception until he died in 1996. Dennis Watson then took over as pastor, with Northrop’s wife, Dolores, continuing as Woman’s Pastor until 2004. Between 2001 and 2008, Jones and his wife served as the part-time pastors of the Florida church, and as heads of a church in Cologne, Germany; by 2004 they were senior part-time pastors of Dove World, shuttling back and forth to Germany. Jones assumed full-time duties at Dove World in 2008 after his German church was closed. Delores Northrup subsequently left Dove World, telling a reporter who contacted her regarding Jones’ 2010 proposed Koran burning, “I was not happy with the program. I think this is completely wrong”.In 2004, when Jones took over as senior pastor of Dove World, it had approximately 100 members; by September 2010 it was said to have 50 members, with about 30 members reportedly attending services. As of September 2010, Wayne Sapp was serving as assistant pastor, with Jones’ son serving as youth minister. Associate pastors are ordained within the church by other pastors, with no classes or specific qualifications required. 

An article in the Gainesville Sun substantiates much of this, except that it claims the Dove Outreach Center was founded in 1986, and describes Northrup’s wife’s name as “Elsie.” According to the Sun,

[Terry Jones’s daughter] Emma Jones grew up hearing that, after arriving in Germany in 1981, her father traveled to Cologne and received a message from God to found a church.  For the next two-plus decades, the Jones family – Terry, Lisa, Emma, Jenny and Luke – lived and worked for Terry Jones’ church in Cologne, keeping close contact with its Gainesville origins.  

It goes on to report that the Cologne church disbanded when Jones decamped in 2008, leaving his daughter Emma in Cologne with “nothing. I had no apartment, no car, no income.” About the same time Terry Jones and his wife Sylvia left Cologne, a fledgling church in New Orleans also closed.

What to make of all of this?  Well, my armchair psychologist’s opinion would be that Terry Jones is a bit unhinged. He also seems to have more in common with Fred Phelps than just their shared status as provocateurs. Jones’s views of Islam are as much representative of America as are Phelps’s views of homosexuality and the military.  Both recruited their families to the cause claiming that they were directly serving God. Both are reported to be abusive to children.  Both have been accused of stirring up outrage for the specific purpose of making money. Both receive the attention of the world simply because they have become adept at knowing precisely where to poke it.  I would be interested to know exactly what prompted Northrup to become Jones’s benefactor originally, what the initial goal was, but regardless it seems safe to say that Jones from has diverged from it by this point.  For all we know, had things gone a bit differently Jones could have become another Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. As it is, he’s just an apparently delusional preacher looking for attention. Look away, America. Look away.

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