Most Americans agree that Quran burning “pastor” Terry Jones is a nut. But is he also a cult leader, and should he be stopped?
Several of Jones’ former and current followers have come forward to describe Jones as a controlling zealot who isolates congregants from their family.
“I had to tell them that we won’t be able to communicate until they apologize, until they accept the Gospel. It was a little bit wrenching,” confessed 25-year old Chris Nassoiy, a current Jones adherent.
In addition to swearing off supposed non-believers, members of Jones’ church, the Dove Outreach Center, are made to take a loyalty pledge that dictates their diets, employment and personal lives, according to the ‘Washington Post.’ And, most of all, you must exalt Jones above all others.
Nassoiy’s mother, Sally, had unsurprisingly harsh words for Jones: “They take young people willing to devote themselves to God’s word, and they exploit them. It’s a cult. That’s the only word I can think of to describe it.”
And indeed Jones’ methods do mirror the characteristics of a cult: a charismatic leader isolates those looking for spiritual or philosophical guidance, demands strict, mindless loyalty, creating an “us versus them” mentality, and shrouds it all in a divine mission of sorts. In this case, its Jones’ demented version of the Gospel: burning the Quran is a “necessary” tactic for defending Christianity and the nation.
“We are sending a message to [radical Muslims] that we don’t want them to do as they appear to be doing in Europe,” Jones said last year, when he first exploded onto the national scene. “We want them to know if they’re in America, they need to obey our law and constitution and not slowly push their agenda upon us.” They are completely justified, says Jones, who also insists that he and his congregants bear no responsibility for the murders of over 20 people, including 7 U.N. workers, that resulted from their recent Quran burning.
But of course religion and patriotism aren’t the prime motives behind Jones’ work. The aforementioned allegiance pledge also includes mandatory work at a furniture shop run by the Dove Outreach Center, and its unquestionable leader, Jones.
Kevin Sieff reports that Jones has a history of using religious flocks for economic ends. “The insular world that Jones has created for his followers in Gainesville is reminiscent of his previous enterprise, the Christian Community of Cologne in Germany,” he writes.
During three decades as a missionary there, he recruited nearly 1,000 churchgoers, according to ‘Pro,’ a Christian magazine in Germany that interviewed several former members for an article published in September. In Cologne, the article said, Jones was no longer spreading the Gospel so much as “creating his own empire.”
Reports on Jones often mention that his church, if you can even call it that, has only a few dozen members, maybe less. But that doesn’t diminish this man’s influence. In fact, after disappearing for a few months, he seems more dangerous than ever, and his plan to “put Mohammed on trial,” however theatrical and ridiculous, may only increase his potency and lead to more deaths.
There’s been some talk about whether the U.S. government should condemn or punish Jones, and most people rightly say that the “pastor” has civil rights that shouldn’t be trampled.
“It is a First Amendment right of Mr. Jones regardless of how reprehensible his actions may be,” said Wyoming State Rep. James Byrd.
But at what point does Jones, a man who is clearly pitting his exclusionary group against the rest of the nation, much like a David Karesh-type character, become less of a sideshow and more of a real threat? When is his status bumped from kooky fundamentalist to an incendiary cultist who threatens the rest of us?