Profile: Dove World Outreach Center
- 1 April 2011
- From the section US & Canada
When the Dove World Outreach Center (DWOC), a small evangelical church in the US state of Florida, announced plans to burn Korans on the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it drew condemnation worldwide.
After angry protests around the Muslim world, its pastor, the Reverend Terry Jones, announced he was cancelling the event.
But on 20 March, another Florida pastor named Wayne Sapp, set a Koran on fire after a mock trial, in which Mr Jones presided and a "jury" found the book "guilty" of crimes against humanity.
The desecration of the Muslim holy book streamed live online was promoted on Facebook and has once again brought international notoriety to the small church, believed to be composed of fewer than 50 members.
While the act initially attracted little attention from the US news media - in contrast to the blanket coverage given the September threat - it was widely denounced in the Asian and Middle Eastern Press and by the US state department, which called the desecration abhorrent.
It is now reported to have been linked to the deaths of seven UN workers in Afghanistan, who were killed in an attack on their compound amid a protest over the desecration.
During his previous stint in the spotlight, surrounding his summer 2010 threat to burn a pile of Koran copies outside the church in Florida, Mr Jones acknowledged he had had "no experience... whatsoever" of the Koran.
But he contended that it is "evil" because it espouses something other than Biblical truth and incites radical, violent behaviour among Muslims. And he has recently written a book entitled Islam is of the Devil.
Muslims regard the Koran as the sacred word of God and consider any intentional damage or show of disrespect towards it as deeply offensive.
The DWOC was founded in Gainesville in 1986 by US businessman Donald Northrup, who died ten years later.
Mr Jones, a former hotel manager, took over the leadership with his wife Sylvia in 1996.
The couple live on the sprawling property and also run a company from the premises, selling furniture on eBay.
Previously, Mr Jones had run a sister church in the German city of Cologne - the Christliche Gemeinde Koeln (Christian Community of Cologne) - for more than 20 years.
In 2002, he was convicted by a Cologne administrative court of falsely using the title "doctor" and was fined, according to German media reports.
The German community asked him to leave in 2008 over differences in "leadership style", said its deputy chairman, Stephan Baar.
Mr Jones has also been accused of financial abuses by his daughter, Emma Jones, and a former church elder, the Gainesville (Florida) Sun reports.
Ms Jones reportedly still lives in Cologne after breaking with the church.
The church has also run a religious school, called the Dove World Outreach Academy, whose students allegedly packed furniture for TS and Company, the for-profit firm owned by Terry and Sylvia Jones.
Florida officials have found the use of church property as a storage site for the furniture business violated the church's tax-exempt status, and the church was punished with a fine, the Gainesville Sun reported.
Under the pastor, the DWOC has been transformed "from a local church to an apostolic church with a world vision", according to its website.
The church says it objects to Islam because it "teaches that Jesus is not the Son of God, therefore taking away the saving power of Jesus Christ and leading people straight to Hell".
On its blog in March, the church announced "the Koran will be put on trial", and if found guilty, "executed" in an event the church described as "International Judge the Koran Day".
"We do not even burn it with great pleasure, or any pleasure at all," Mr Jones said before Mr Sapp set the book afire. "We burn it because we feel a deep obligation to stay with the court system of America. The court system of America does not allow convicted criminals to go free."
In September, Mr Jones's threat to set copies of the Koran afire provoked fears of international protests by Muslims on a scale similar to those seen after the publication of satirical cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper in 2006.
As pressure built on the church, protesters in Afghanistan burned an effigy of Mr Jones to chants of "death to America".
US President Barack Obama pleaded with him on television, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates called him personally to ask he not follow through, and US Secretary of State lamented the church had gotten so much attention for what she criticised as "outrageous" and "aberrational" plans.
And Gen David Petraeus, commander of the Nato mission in Afghanistan, warned the plan would endanger US troops.
Mr Jones said he sincerely hoped burning Korans would not lead to violence, and dismissed the idea that it could put American soldiers at greater risk.
"We must send a clear message to the radical element of Islam: We will no longer be controlled and dominated by their fears and threats," he said.
Announcing the cancellation of the event, he said his aim had been to "expose that there is an element of Islam that is very dangerous and very radical".
"We have definitely accomplished that," he told US broadcaster NBC.
In January, Mr Jones was invited to give a talk to a right wing group in Milton Keynes, but was barred from the UK by the Home Office, which said his presence in the country was "not conducive to the public good".