The following is a guest post by the Rev. Todd F. Eklof, minister of Clifton Universalist Unitarian Church in Louisville, KY. Thanks to Todd for sharing this story. Have a great story from your congregation? If it has a growth or media angle it might make a great guest post on this site. Contact me for guest post instructions.
Little more than a week before the 9th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, an obscure religious group in Gainesville, Florida, the Dove World Outreach Center, took center stage in our country over its plans to burn the Quran. During our Sunday announcements, just six days before the burning was scheduled to occur (being the knee-jerk reactor that I am), I told our congregation that I’d like us to sponsor a twelve-hour reading of the Islamic Holy Book, from 9:11 AM to 9:11 PM, on 9-11.
I hoped that if I could get 24 volunteers scheduled to read, we could each take 30 minutes slots. Although Clifton UU is a small congregation, and the crowd was less than usual due to the Memorial Day holiday, our members became instantly captivated by the plan, and so many said, “Put me down to read,” or, “count me in,” or, “just tell me what time to be there,” that I couldn’t all of them straight. By the following day I had all 24 slots filled and then some. So I decided to try to fill 36 twenty-minute slots, which also happened quickly and with ease. In fact, I had so many people calling throughout the week hoping to participate that I finally ended up saying, “just show up whenever you want and we’ll work you in.” We must have had 50 readers or more show up on the day of the event.
The local media was more than instrumental in helping us get the word out. I sent out a press release first thing Monday morning (Sept. 6) and started getting phone calls from radio and TV stations almost immediately. The Courier-Journal, our local paper, kept printing brief reminders about it throughout the week, radio stations replayed their interviews during their daily news updates, and a couple of TV stations aired news reports about it. And the day before, when Terry Jones, the Gainesville group’s leader, cancelled the burning, the media started calling us to find out if our event was still on. “Now more than ever,” I responded. I was angry that Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and John Boehner had tried to politicize the situation by likening the proposed book burning to the proposed construction of a Mosque in New York City. No doubt it was the Republican’s politicization of this local matter that fueled the flames of the Quran burning to begin with. So we were morally obligated to show our support for our Muslim neighbors, and take a stand for religious tolerance and freedom!
The event itself proved to be an extraordinary experience on many levels. Firstly, it brought so many diverse people together in a show of solidarity and support. There were Muslims, Christians, Jews, and, of course, plenty of Unitarian Universalists present throughout the day. Secondly, it was one of many events happening around the country on that same day to help counter the ugly image of the U.S. as a Muslim hating nation. Thirdly, it showed our church community that it is possible to make a big difference, even in short order, when we work together.
In retrospect, I’m even a little grateful to the misguided folks at the Dove World Outreach Center for mirroring our nation’s bigotry and hatred toward Muslims in such a profound way. If they had not done so, and if we had planned a Quran reading on 9-11 outside the context of such a ubiquitously despised plan, it might have been our church that was in the national spotlight, being reviled as “traitors,” or, as one angry called said, “You’re making a mistake reading that Koran. You must be a terrorist loving son-of-a-bitch!” By reflecting our own fear and intolerance back at us, however, Terry Jones and his lot were not only pressured to back out of their despicable plans, but you’ll notice ever since nobody is talking about the New York mosque anymore either. Let’s keep our fingers crossed it stays that way. Otherwise us UU’s are more than ready to spring into action!