A North Carolina Baptist pastor has reversed course, removing a sign outside his church suggesting the Muslim holy book should be put in a toilet.
In the face of national media attention and overwhelmingly negative response to his actions-including critiques from officials of his own denomination-Creighton Lovelace issued a written apology May 25, according to the Forest City, N.C., Daily Courier and Baptist Press.
Lovelace, pastor of Danieltown Baptist Church in Forest City, said in the statement that he “did not realize how people of the Muslim faith view the Koran-that devoted Muslims view it more highly than many in the United States view the Bible.”
He continued: “Now I realize how offensive this is to them, and after praying about it, I have chosen to remove the sign. I apologize for posting that message and deeply regret that it has offended so many in the Muslim community.”
Lovelace's sign had read, “The Koran needs to be flushed!”
It was an apparent reference to a now-retracted Newsweek article saying American military officials had mistreated the Koran in handling war prisoners and suspected terrorists incarcerated at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba. The article quoted an unnamed official as saying an internal government report had confirmed one inmate's accusation that a guard at the prison had flushed pages of the Islamic scriptures down a commode.
Reports about the accusation reportedly inflamed an anti-American mob in Afghanistan, which erupted into a riot that resulted in 16 deaths. Although Newsweek retracted the story when its source backed away from the claim, Pentagon officials admitted May 26 that an investigation had uncovered other intentional mistreatment of the Koran at the hands of American personnel.
As for Lovelace's sign, an American Muslim civil rights group first brought it to national attention May 23. Soon, other civic and religious leaders were criticizing it, including the heads of two agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention. The 55-member church is affiliated with the SBC.
Lovelace initially refused to apologize, telling reporters he knew the sentiment would be offensive because the truth is sometimes offensive.
But his later apology statement said his intentions had been to “exalt the Bible and its teaching. It was certainly not my intent to insult any people of faith, but instead to remind the people in this community of the preeminence of God's Word.”
The head of the group that first criticized the sign praised its removal. “We thank Pastor Lovelace for his apology and hope this incident will serve to improve relations between Christians and Muslims in North Carolina and throughout America,” said Nihad Awad, director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, in a May 25 statement.
Associated Baptist Press