By Kimberly C. Moore and Chad Smith
Ocala Staff writers
On Wednesday, after Dove World Outreach Center Pastor Terry Jones announced that he is, for now, going ahead with plans to burn at least one Quran on Sept. 11, he held a private meeting inside his church with the imam of the Islamic Society of Central Florida.
“As you can imagine, we have received very much pressure in the direction of cancelling this event,” Jones, 58, told a gathering of reporters from all over the world, whose numbers were greater than the congregation of his church, which totals about 50. “As of this time, we have no intention of cancelling.”
Muhammad Musri, imam of the Islamic Society of Central Florida in Orlando, drove to Gainesville Wednesday morning to attend an interfaith service at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. Musri then drove to Dove World and waited through Jones’ announcement to speak with him. After the pastor, who did not answer reporters’ questions, went back into the building, Musri was let inside and the two met in Jones’ office for about 40 minutes. Musri’s assistant, Bassem Chaaban waited outside, talking with reporters and holding his copy of the Quran.
“I told him the world would admire your courage if you come out and say, ‘Because of my devotion to Christ and the Bible, I’m going to do the right thing.'” Musri said. “I strongly believe at the end of the day that he is going to make the right step and call off this event.”
Musri said he believes that Jones thinks American Muslims are peaceful. He did not address a sign in the church’s front yard stating, “Islam is of the devil,” nor Jones’ many statements online that Islam is evil.
The Vatican, The White House, the U.S. Secretary of State, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, various worldwide Islamic and Jewish groups, along with a chorus of Christian organizations have condemned Jones’s plans to burn the Muslim holy book. Most say it is simply disrespectful, while Gen. David Patraeus said it could cause violence against American troops stationed overseas.
Florida National Guard Sgt. Terrance Long of Ocala is currently stationed with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. He e-mailed The Gainesville Sun to pass along a message to Jones not to burn the Quran.
“Mr. Jones, I am begging you…PLEASE halt what you are planning,” Long wrote. “I fear that what you are planning will have a devastating outcome for those of us serving abroad in harm’s way to keep our families and fellow Americans, including yourself, safe and secure. I pray that you will search your heart and ask yourself if this act is truly worth what it will cost all of us Americans in possible bloodshed, bloodshed that will come directly because of your personal actions.”
In a deposition taken on Aug. 10 for a federal lawsuit , Jones expounded on Dove World and his thoughts about Islam. Members of the church are suing the Alachua County School Board over t-shirts their children wore to school last year, proclaiming “Islam is of the devil.” The school board attorneys asked how Jones came up with the phrase.
“I’ve been in many Muslim countries. And I saw the oppression, and then later on, I discovered Sharia law, honor killings, the violence that is connected with Islam…We came up with it as more of a warning against Islam, against Sharia law, more of a warning against radical Islam, and more of a warning and encouragement to peaceful Muslims to stay peaceful,” he said. “I think the Christian church has lost its vision and calling. I think it’s more concerned with preaching what people want to hear than actually preaching what the bible says.”
Jones said he had expected other churches in the area to stand with him when he put up the signs in the church’s yard stating “Islam is of the devil.”
When asked by Alachua County School Board attorneys if Dove World has a mission statement, Jones replied: “I think. I’m sure we do. Yeah.” They asked if he knew what the mission statement is and Jones answered, “No.”
Jones and his wife Sylvia operated the church in Gainesville part-time between 2001 and 2008, and then full time after Jones left the Christliche Gemeinde Koln church in Cologne, Germany, after accusations of fraud came to light. The German newspaper Der Spiegel quotes current church leaders as saying Jones was kicked out of the church over the financial issues. They described his sermons as hate-filled.
The tax-exempt status of Dove World came under scrutiny last year after it was revealed that the Joneses were running a for-profit business out of church property. The Alachua County Property Appraiser’s Office recently rescinded tax-exempt status for part of the church’s property, where a furniture business is run.
Daniel and Jennifer Engel, who grew up in the church in Cologne and worked for free for Jones in his Gainesville business, said in a July 2009 Gainesville Sun article that they felt mental and emotional pressure at the Gainesville church. The Engels said they realized they had been sucked into a rhetoric of preaching that the only way to heaven was to work for the church.
Jones’ daughter, Emma, broke with her father and step-mother and the church in Germany. In last year’s Gainesville Sun story, she said the church in Cologne fed the private coffers of her father and stepmother.
“It’s all about how much did you work, how much profit did you bring in,” Emma Jones said last year. “He made 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds work 12-hour days.”
Emma Jones declined to comment for this story.
The Joneses or their corporation, TS and Company, own six properties in the Gainesville neighborhoods of Pineridge and Phoenix, purchased between March 2006 and August 2007 for a combined total of $647,500. Financing information was not available. In addition, Terry and Sylvia Jones bought a home in Slidell, La., in January 2007 for $303,900. They also own a condo in the Paradise Island Towers Condo on Treasure Island, which was bought before Jones’ first wife died.
The Rev. Dan Johnson, chief pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, which is located around the corner from Dove World, stopped by the church Wednesday and watched from a distance as Musri went inside. Trinity is holding an interfaith service Friday evening from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m.
“I tried to call this morning, but it was busy all morning,” Johnson said. “I think this will open a voice for moderation because people are just sick and tired of fighting.”
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