A small Florida congregation known for its vehement anti-Islamic and anti-gay positions, leading to global controversy and widespread condemnation.
The Dove World Outreach Center, a small non-denominational charismatic Christian church, first garnered media attention in the late 2000s for its public displays of criticism against Islam and homosexuality. This Gainesville, Florida-based congregation, under the leadership of pastor Terry Jones and his wife, Sylvia, was particularly noted for its aggressive stance against Islam, which culminated in the infamous “International Burn a Koran Day.”
Founding and Leadership
Founded in 1986 by Don Northrup, the church described itself as a “total concept church” dedicated to serving all. After Northrup’s death in 1996, Terry Jones, a long-time Northrup associate, took over leadership in 2001. Jones, along with his wife, became the primary driving force behind the church’s increased visibility and controversial activities.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has classified the Dove World Outreach Center as a hate group, primarily for its anti-gay activities. In March 2010, the church notably protested against the possibility of an openly gay mayor in Gainesville, displaying a lawn sign reading “No Homo Mayor.” This was later changed to “No Homo” following complaints. Additionally, Dove World members collaborated with the Westboro Baptist Church in a protest against homosexuality, although they did not fully endorse all of Westboro’s methods.
The church’s anti-Islam activities gained significant media attention. In 2009, they posted a lawn sign stating “Islam is of the Devil,” which also became the title of a book published by Jones. This message was further propagated when children of church members attended public schools wearing T-shirts with the same phrase, leading to a legal challenge regarding the school’s dress code policy.
2010 “International Burn a Koran Day”
The most notorious event associated with the Dove World Outreach Center was the 2010 “International Burn a Koran Day.” Planned to coincide with the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the event was met with widespread international condemnation. High-profile figures, including U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, criticized the plan, highlighting its potential to endanger American troops and increase recruitment for extremist groups.
Despite the global outcry, Terry Jones initially remained adamant about proceeding with the Quran burning. However, he eventually canceled the event, claiming a promise to move the Park51 Islamic community center in New York in exchange for calling off the burning – a claim that was later denied by the involved parties.
Further Controversies and Legal Challenges
Despite the cancellation of the initial event, Jones and his congregation continued to engage in Quran burnings. These actions led to protests and violence in some Muslim countries. In one instance, the church conducted a mock trial of the Quran, resulting in its burning as a “punishment” for “crimes against humanity.”
The Dove World Outreach Center faced financial difficulties following their controversial activities. The church’s bank demanded immediate repayment of its mortgage loan, and their property insurance was canceled. In 2013, it was reported that the church would relocate to the Tampa Bay area. However, by this time, the congregation had significantly dwindled in size.
Legal Issues and Public Safety Concerns
Jones’ actions, particularly the Quran burnings, prompted severe backlash, including threats to his safety. Groups like Hezbollah announced bounties on his head, reflecting the extent of anger and opposition to his activities.
Community and International Response
The church’s activities sparked a range of responses, both locally and internationally. In Gainesville, local interfaith groups organized events to promote peace and understanding in response to the church’s divisive actions. Internationally, the church’s plans were condemned by various governments and religious organizations, underlining the global impact of their actions.