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PRUDEN: Having a little fun with the pious elites

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The media created Terry Jones, the Florida storefront preacher who wanted to be Jim Jones without the Kool-Aid, but neither bloggers nor pontificators had a clue to who he is.

Mr. Jones may not be much of a preacher. His "storefront" is actually a barnlike building in a pine grove on the outskirts of Gainesville, and his congregation numbers only 50 on a good Sunday. But he's a marketing genius. With only a threat to burn a Koran, he became a household name across the world and never had to strike a match. He saw an effigy of himself, wrapped in an American flag, burned by rioters in Afghanistan, shouting "death to the Christians." Every newspaper, every network scrambled for face time with him. Can anybody even remember the name of the vicar of the National Cathedral?

We don't know for sure how many copies of the Koran he had stockpiled for burning, or whether he had ever intended to send one up in smoke. He says he has never read the Koran: "All I know is the Bible." Nevertheless, he had teased and baited some prominent American detractors, most prominently Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The general said the Koran-burning would have endangered his troops and enabled the Taliban to "cause significant problems." Mrs. Clinton said reporters and photographers should, "as an act of patriotism," abstain from covering the burning. (Good luck with expecting restraint by the wretches, inky or not.) The Vatican called the threat "outrageous and grave," and worthies as varied as U.S. Attorney General Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., actress Angelina Jolie, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, President Obama, Sen. Joe Lieberman and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner condemned the preacher's plans as "unwise," "a concern," "not a good idea" and "outrageous." Miss Jolie, with no screenwriter at hand, couldn't come up with "the words" to describe her feelings. We put her down as "against." So was nearly everybody. The closest anyone could find to a defender of the burning was Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York. "He has a right to do it," Hizzoner said, "but it's boneheaded and wrong." Mr. Bloomberg managed to say this without blushing. This is precisely what everybody tried to tell him about his boneheaded defense of building the ground zero mosque at ground zero.

Pastor Jones irritated and embarrassed no one more than followers of the Messiah, who told His followers to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." But some of the admonishments sounded as if made more in fright than with good will. The warning that burning a Koran would inspire the Taliban to heroic feats of ardor rang particularly hollow. The Taliban will do what it can do no matter what anyone says; Gen. Petraeus should not expect any canceled roadside bombings now that Pastor Jones has put away his matches. The flag-burners will only gloat that they've got the general's number. It's difficult to imagine Stonewall Jackson ("never take counsel with your fears") or George S. Patton (old "Blood and Guts") seeking civilian help in cooling the enemy's anger. Ah, but these are different times.

Terry Jones was never going to be persuaded by his critics, and the criticism probably strengthened his resolve. A pastor who called a neighboring Methodist congregation "lily-livered yellow bellies" would never take kindly to a scolding by Italian priests in Rome. Mr. Jones may have the credentials of a charlatan but the resentment he and his followers - and millions of other Americans - feel about the double standard of the elites is real and festering.

The elites lined up to lecture the critics of the ground zero mosque for their "bigotry" and lack of appreciation of the traditions of American fair play, deliberately distorting what the argument was about. Sometimes the great unwashed attempt to teach the elites a lesson, and pick up the only blunt instrument at hand.

The only voices the pastor likely heard were those the elites have such contempt for. J. Lee Grady, a columnist for Charisma, a magazine aimed at Pentecostals, wrote that he was praying that "[Mr. Terry] will repent and renounce his outrageous intentions before the time arrives to strike the first match."

When an interviewer asked him about that, Mr. Jones, who was having a high old time with his notoriety, replied: "As of right now, we are not backing down. But if God told us to do it, He could tell us to do something different." The observant and discerning among us saw the preacher wink.

Wesley Pruden is the editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Wesley Pruden

Wesley Pruden

Editor Emeritus — American journalist legend and Vietnam War author James Wesley Pruden, Jr. is Editor Emeritus of The Washington Times. Pruden’s first job in the newspaper business dates back to 1951 as a copyboy at the now defunct Arkansas Gazette where he later became a sportswriter and an assistant state editor. In 1982, he joined The Washington Times, four ...

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