Church sign sparks debate
This sign posted in front of Danieltown Baptist Church has sparked debate in Rutherford County about religious tolerance. (Josh Humphries/Daily Courier) By JOSH HUMPHRIES Daily Courier Staff Writer
FOREST CITY -- A sign in front of a Baptist church on one of the most traveled highways in the county stirred controversy over religious tolerance and first-amendment rights this weekend.
A sign in front of Danieltown Baptist Church, located at 2361 U.S. 221 south reads "The Koran needs to be flushed," and the Rev. Creighton Lovelace, pastor of the church, is not apologizing for the display.
"I believe that it is a statement supporting the word of God and that it (the Bible) is above all and that any other religious book that does not teach Christ as savior and lord as the 66 books of the Bible teaches it, is wrong," said Lovelace. "I knew that whenever we decided to put that sign up that there would be people who wouldn't agree with it, and there would be some that would, and so we just have to stand up for what's right."
Seema Riley, a Muslim, who was born in Pakistan and reared in New York, was one of those upset by the sign.
She moved to Rutherford County for the "small town friendly" atmosphere, she said. When she saw the sign on the side of the highway Saturday she felt angered and threatened.
"We need a certain degree of tolerance," said Riley. "That sign doesn't really reflect what I think this county is about."
She said that according to Islamic faith, a follower does not even touch the Koran without going through a ritual cleansing. Muslims believe the physical book to be a sacred item that is treated with respect and reverence, much like the image of Jesus in Christianity, according to a report on National Public Radio.
"For someone to put that sign up -- the person just didn't understand -- didn't take into consideration what putting up that sign means," said Riley. "I don't think it should be posted on a sign in public viewing on the highway to create a hostile environment for me."
The appearance of the sign follows a national news story from last week. Newsweek magazine retracted a story reporting that military guards at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay flushed a copy of the Koran down the toilet during interrogation of a detainee. The Newsweek story sent Washington in a frenzy and was blamed for igniting Muslim riots and deaths abroad, including a particularly violent outburst in Afghanistan.
"Our creed as a Christian, or a Protestant, or a Baptist church -- of course we don't have a creed but the bible -- but we do have the Baptist faith and message that says that we should cling to the 66 books of the Holy Bible and any other book outside of that claiming to know the way of God or claiming to be God's word is automatically written off and is trying to defeat people from the way of true righteousness inside of our viewpoint in how we view the word of God," Lovelace said.
"Putting such a sign in a public place is an un-American example of intolerance, of aggressive disrespect for other citizens' deeply held views," said Donald Searing, Burton Craige Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "This is the sort of attitude and action that seriously endangers the liberty which lies at the heart of our democracy. It is also a good reminder that just because one may have the legal right to say something, doing so may not be morally, socially or politically desirable."
When Lovelace was asked whether he considered before he put the sign up that there may be some consequences or that some people may be angered, he said he was aware of the likelihood of angering some people.
"Well, I thought about it and I said there may be people who are offended by it but the way I look at it, Jesus told his followers that if the world hates you, don't feel bad because they hated me first," said Lovelace. "If we stand for what is right and for God's word and for Christianity then the world is going to condemn us and so right away when I got a complaint I said 'well somebody's mad, somebody's offended, so we must be doing something right.'"
Danieltown Baptist Church belongs to the Sandy Run Baptist Association and the association's Director of Missions the Rev. Jim Diehl said that Lovelace's opinion does not necessarily reflect that of that organization.
"Each of the churches of the Sandy Run Baptist Association are autonomous bodies," said Diehl. "Each church can develop a stance on doctrinal issues and can develop its own stance on moral issues."
The Rev. Billy Honeycutt, of the Green River Baptist Association said that he hopes that those who see the sign keep tolerance in mind.
"Respecting religion is important and respecting other people is important," said Honeycutt. "Hopefully, a lot of people will have that thought when they see the sign."
Following the religious controversy at a church in Waynesville where several members were asked to leave in what was termed a dispute over politics, several groups threatened to boycott the entire town due to the actions of one preacher.
Director of the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce Bill Hall said he does not think that the Danieltown sign will have a negative impact on the county's tourism or economic vitality.
"It is unfortunate that things like that happen and it certainly doesn't represent Rutherford County," said Hall. "I think that most people will understand that that is not a common attitude in this community."
Lovelace said he felt it was the work of God to display the sign and that no one in the church has spoken up against it to him.
He said the church has 55 members on the roster and he has only received one angry phone call since the sign was posted.
"We have a good group of people," said Lovelace.
Lovelace said the sign changes every week.
"About Friday or Saturday we will have a new sign," he said. "It should state to some effect 'Where are your treasures? Are they at the flea market or are they in heaven?'"
Lovelace said that he does not have anything against the flea market that recently opened up down the street from the church.
"I enjoy a good flea market, but if people can be down there at eight o'clock why can't they be at church at 11," he said.