Book Burning for Jesus

Posted by bettenoir
AlterNet | August 3, 2010

Dove World Outreach Center

... Dove World Outreach is the touchy-feely facade for a suspiciously “for-profit business in tax-exempt clothing” that describes itself as a New Testament Apostolic Church (with one location, worldwide – Gainesville, Florida) that is run more like a cult than a church. DWO might have managed to fly under the radar longer except that its founders and senior pastors, Dr. Terry and Sylvia Jones, like money and attention a little too much for their own good. And so it is that they decided to jump on the Islamaphobia bandwagon and demonstrate their patriotism and devotion to Christian values by announcing their intention to publicly burn a batch of Korans on September 11th. Dr. Jones is also the author of the treatise Islam is of the Devil and sole source vendor of the spin-off products — Islam is of the Devil t-shirts, baseball caps and coffee mugs.

The shirts were premiered during “Flaunt Your Bigotry in School Day,” in Gainesville, in which parents (pastors and congregants of DWO) sent their kids off to the first day of school decked out in Islam is of the Devil t-shirts. Here’s what that looks like:

Christian Child Abuse

The usual First Amendment brouhaha ensued when the kids were asked to lose/cover up the shirts while in school. When the kids followed the instruction of their loving parents and refused, they were sent home. A bigger and better encore performance was staged the following day; but it appears that the school prevailed, in the long run.

The ACLU expressed their dismay over the sentiment expressed on the shirts but duly filed a lawsuit defending the childrens’ right to wear them under the First Amendment; legal counsel for the school district stated that:

“a school may regulate a student’s free speech rights if the exercise of those rights materially and substantially interferes with maintaining appropriate discipline at school, or if the conduct impinges on the rights of other students.”

The kids will probably outgrow the shirts by the time that debate is sorted out.

* * *

The history of Dove World Outreach is no less colorful. It all starts with a vision (as is so often the case) in which Dr. Terry Jones discovers how very special he is and what God has planned for his own special fellow. Forthwith, Dr Jones picks up his wife and three kids and decamps to Cologne, Germany to carry out his special mission – which Dr. Jones describes as Restore! Rebuild! Destroy!

As with similar missions, down through the ages, not everything went swimmingly for Dr. Jones. No one in the Jones’ entourage spoke a word of German and no one besides Dr. Terry had had a vision or heard from God. An interview printed in the Apostolic magazine The Voice gives some idea of how things went for the Jones family in Cologne:

THE VOICE: How would you describe the spiritual opposition to Christianity in Germany? What is the spiritual climate like there?

DR. JONES: I would say the opposition to Christianity in Germany is nothing we have ever experienced in the States. Because of the history of Germany I believe it’s easy to understand the opposition to Christianity in Germany as very violent. We have received here a lot of persecution, whether it be from the government, the news media, the school system, the city itself. I would say the spiritual climate and opposition to Christianity in Germany is one that manifests itself in a very violent way. We had a man kill his wife, who was a part of our church, because she had converted to Christianity.

DR. JONES: As I already stated, we have had much opposition, whether it be from parents, the school, the government, the news media, but I believe that probably our biggest opposition has come from the Christians within the community. I believe that has been one of our biggest oppositions through over 24 years of ministry here. Within that time we have never been accepted in the city or with our vision or what we do. I believe that has been one of our biggest oppositions.

OK, let’s back up here a bit the “opposition to Christianity in Germany is very violent” . . . Huh? Perhaps the disconnect here has something to do with one’s definition of “Christianity.” When the Germans invited the Joneses to leave their country it had more to do with things like “tax evasion,” disregard for child labor laws, misuse of church funds, charges of cultism, and lying about the largely decorative use of the “Dr.” prefix that Jones appends to his name and which Germans take rather seriously (and for which he ultimately paid a fine of €3000).

In case anyone finds those rumors hyberbolic or unsubstantiated, Emma Jones, Dr. Terry’s estranged daughter is happy to corroborate and expand upon the sins of the father. Actually, it’s pretty evident from the attention that Jones is getting here in the US, lately, that he has simply moved his religion-for-profit business to Gainesville, FL where, I suppose, he’s expecting a little more in the way of religious tolerance (except for Muslims, of course).

Actually, this Christian scofflaw stance is part and parcel of Jones’ particular brand of Christianity; Jones, like Sarah Palin and growing legions of wealthy, politically connected American conservative Christians are practicing Dominionists who believe that it is their duty to seek influence or control over secular civil government through political action. The goal is either a nation governed by Christians, or a nation governed by a conservative Christian understanding of biblical law.

Once again, in The Voice interview, Jones makes his thoughts on Dominionism pretty clear:

THE VOICE: We are beginning to hear more about the Kingdom and how God has given us dominion. What does it really mean to take dominion?

DR. JONES: I believe that it means something I just mentioned. I believe that taking of dominion obviously includes prayer and spiritual warfare. It obviously does mean the recognizing of the strongholds that hold every nation in bondage. Every nation has its own type of strongholds. In Germany there is very much fear and control. In America a stronghold is rebellion and selfishness. In the ministry area a stronghold is having your own ministry, not willing to submit, not willing to be apart of the team, not willing to give up your benefit for the common church or the calling. I believe taking dominion practically means starting businesses. I believe that it is very important for the church to accumulate as much property and buildings as possible. I believe that dominion means also in the natural that we own and we posses. We do not rent from someone else, we are not renters of a building from a heathen nation or company but we buy and posses our own buildings. With that we are taking dominion. With that we are having a say over that area, what we do inside that building around that building because we own that building. We have taken dominion. We have taken control.

Therefore, it is less than surprising to find Pastor Jones setting up on a tax-exempt 20 acre plot in Gainesville to shepherd his 80-person congregation (which includes four pastoral families). To support his little dominion the pastor peddles his new book, Islam is of the Devil, as well as the associated spinoff products. He accepts cash donations via major credit cards and PayPal. But his real cash cow, here as in Germany, is his for-profit enterprise TSandCompany, which until very recently was a fixture on eBay. The TS is for Terry and Sylvia and that pretty much says it. TSandCompany is/was(?) an ever-growing antiques and vintage furniture company doing business all up and down the US East Coast, complete with showrooms and a fleet of trucks. The real secret of TSandCompany’s success though, is the free-labor provided by church volunteers who do everything from packing, delivering and picking up furniture to collecting food donations from area businesses and even dumpster-diving for discarded packing materials and inventory.

Ex church-members describe 12-14 hour workdays for no pay except room and board on church property which consists of low-income housing bought up by Jones in Gainesville neighborhoods that have seen better days. The Engels, a couple that emigrated from the Jones’ Cologne, said that for more than a year, they lived in an apartment in Pineridge in northwest Gainesville with their two young sons and worked more than 40 hours a week unpaid. The Engels said they didn’t pay rent for their apartment and that all their meals were provided by the church’s Lisa Jones House, which the church describes as an “outreach to the poor” that uses food from the local food bank. I guess if you’re a church member with no income, you qualify.

In an interview with the Gainesville Sun, the Engels described their stay at DWO this way:

“The couple, who were married in the Cologne church, described feeling mental or emotional pressure at the Gainesville church. Jennifer Engel said the pastors tried to convince her that if they left Gainesville to return to Germany, she would be damned.

“It wasn’t until after they left that the Engels say they realized they had been sucked into a rhetoric of preaching that the only way to heaven was to work for the church.”

Terry Jones told The Sun that all employees for TS and Company are church members who volunteer their time. Emma Jones, the pastor’s daughter puts it differently:

“It’s all about how much did you work, how much profit did you bring in,” said Emma Jones, the 29-year-old daughter of Terry Jones and his deceased first wife, Lisa Jones. “He made 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds work 12-hour days.”

Emma Jones said she is speaking out against her father and the church she grew up in with the hope of helping others leave what she calls a “cult” that “forced us with oppression to be obedient.”

* * *

The training ground for DWO’s workforce is something Jones calls Dove World Outreach Academy. The “academy” (with a current enrollment of three) is Sylvia Jones’ “special mission” and, according to information published in February on the academy’s Web site, it is a “training place for loyalty and discipline.”

“The main part of training is, the students live on the (Dove World Outreach Center property), they eat and sleep here, and work in the areas we offer, the (Lisa Jones House), TS and company or Dove Charismatic Ministries, the church,” stated an introduction published in February on the Web site and signed by Sylvia Jones. “Going through the whole process for three years breaks the pride, because the students need to humble themselves not only under God’s mighty hand but under the hand of man as well.”

Not to mention that “it takes a village” to support the Joneses.

The Academy’s “Rule Book” (which has undergone recent revisions like so many other aspects of the “church”) was described thus by the Cologne contingent:

“According to the original rule book, rules for those in the academy – mostly young adults who can be seen on the church property wearing khaki cargo pants as part of their uniform – include being obedient to all commands, asking for permission to talk and using only the academy e-mail account for personal correspondence. In the original rule book, academy attendees also are banned from dining in restaurants or eating sweets and cakes, with weekly weigh-ins to achieve a weight goal.”

“Visits from family and friends are not allowed, and occasions such as weddings, funerals or birthdays are no exception, according to the original rule book.”

According to property tax records pulled by The Sun:

All six properties, four in Phoenix and two in Pineridge, were purchased between March 2006 and August 2007 for a combined $647,500. Financing information for the properties was not immediately available.

Terry and Sylvia Jones also own 4.42 acres of vacant land in Chiefland purchased in 2004 for about $28,000.

The couple purchased a house in Slidell, La., in January 2007 for $303,900.

And they own a condo in the Paradise Island Towers Condo on Treasure Island, which was purchased before Terry Jones’ first wife died.

Terry Jones declined an interview to discuss his property holdings.

* * *

As the Bible says, though, “to everything there is a season” and it looks like the Joneses season might be coming to a close. The church property is listed on the real estate market for $4.2 million, TSand Company suddenly no longer operate on eBay (at least not under that name) but, as recently as this past May, the Joneses were advertising jobs for delivery drivers on ChristianCareerCenter.com

Oddly enough, the final straw seems to have been not the cult mentality, nor the slave labor issue, nor even the anti-Islamic book-burning. It was actually a DWO junior pastor’s rant about an openly homosexual candidate running for mayor of Gainesville that made the walls come tumbling down.

Here’s an account from a web-cached article on an aggregator site:

“In the weeks leading up to the run-off between Lowe and candidate Don Marsh, Dove World posted two videos, one on YouTube and another on the church’s Web site, in which a junior pastor, Wayne Sapp, warned against voting for Lowe, claiming he is “trying to convert Gainesville into Homoville.”

“Here in Gainesville,” Sapp said in the YouTube video, “they’re getting ready to have a run-off election between two candidates, and one of them is openly a homo, gay, fag – whatever you want to call him. We can’t have it.”

“The six-minute video, which was replete with offensive and outrageous rhetoric, was soon removed from YouTube for violating the site’s terms of service, but another appeared on the church’s Web site a few days later, to drive the point home.”

“[Homosexuality] is a sin that leads to hell,” Sapp continued. “[A] public office such as mayor, governor, president, should not be held by such people, because they’re perverts, they’re sexually perverted…. They cannot restrain themselves.”

“Sapp claimed he reached out to more than 100 churches in Gainesville to join the campaign against Lowe. To his disappointment, none would do so.”

On the heels of that tirade, Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Dove World Outreach Center’s violation of its tax-exempt status by getting involved in politics. According to Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, tax-exempt organizations can’t “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.

In the meantime, Pastor Jones told a reporter from The Sun that he believes the church is acting within its constitutional rights. But, as Lynn pointed out, “in fact, tax exemption is extended on a number of conditions, one of which bars intervention in partisan politics. Houses of worship may not endorse or oppose candidates.”

In his letter to the IRS, Lynn stated:

“Dove World Outreach Center,” Lynn continued, “has violated that standard, and its senior pastor admitted it. I urge the Internal Revenue Service to investigate this matter promptly and make certain that the law is enforced.”

Not to be outdone, the Alachua County Property Appraiser is also investigating the church’s exempt status when it comes to property taxes but for other reasons, primarily involving the church’s for-profit operation of TS and Company, which sells furniture through eBay, on the church’s 20-acre property. According to Florida state law, property — regardless of who owns it — is only exempt if it’s used for exempt purposes like holding church services.

One can only hope that DWO’s current problems will serve as a cautionary tale to those Dominionists and other assorted Christian soldiers who don’t take laws and constitutions seriously, let alone ethics, morals or social mores. I wouldn’t count on it, though; people who think that God is talking to them generally express disdain for earthly rules and regs. But at least, maybe the Alachua County Fire Marshall can put the kibosh to the book-burning . . . ?

http://blogs.alternet.org/bettenoir/2010/08/03/bookburning-for-jesus/