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Profile: Sylvia Jones

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Sylvia Jones was a participant or observer in the following events:

A sign outside Terry Jones’s Florida church.A sign outside Terry Jones’s Florida church. [Source: Gainesville Sun]Pastor Terry Jones of a small Gainesville, Florida, church called the Dove World Outreach Center sends a barrage of posts on Twitter, called “tweets,” that call Islam a “fascist” religion and lambast President Obama’s support for a new Kenyan constitution that could permit abortion and codify Islamic law. His final one reads, “9/11/2010 Int Burn a Koran Day.” (Gerhart and Londono 9/10/2010) In the hours that follow, Jones begins a Facebook campaign he calls “International Burn a Koran Day.” Jones says that on September 11, 2010, he and his congregation intend to burn “a few hundred Korans” in a massive bonfire on his church’s grounds, and he expects a crowd of “several hundred” to join him. He also says that others will undoubtedly join him by burning Korans on their own. Jones says that he intends to burn the Korans because Islam is an “evil” religion and a sponsor of worldwide terrorism, and it is time for Christians to “stand up” to Muslims. He says Islam promotes violence and that Muslims want to impose Shari’a law in the United States. He has acknowledged that he and his wife Sylvia learned what they know of Islam by watching YouTube videos, and has admitted never actually meeting a Muslim. He has said publicly that other religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism, are all “of the devil.” He says he has refused to take part in any interfaith discussions, explaining: “Because I’m not interested in interfaith discussions. That’s part of our problem.” (Goodman 9/7/2010; Smith 9/11/2010; Daily Mail 4/2/2011) He claims to have over 700 “friends” on Facebook by July 23, only two days after the “tweet” barrage, though most of the comments on the page are quite negative. (Gerhart and Londono 9/10/2010; Weaver 9/12/2010) The Dove Center is a nondenominational church that practices charismatic, evangelical Christianity, and supplies free food and clothing to indigent citizens through its Lisa Jones House, an organization named after Jones’s first wife, who died in 1999. (Fisher and Voyles 7/8/2009) Within days of the Facebook campaign launch, EuroIslam (.info), a Web site that collects news and analysis headed by a Harvard professor of divinity, picks up the Dove World mission statement—“To bring to awareness to the dangers of Islam and that the Koran is leading people to hell”—and posts it on its “Islamaphobia Observatory” section. Jones begins posting videos on YouTube promoting his intentions to burn Korans. By July 21, the Council on American-Islamic Relations is calling for Koran education sessions to refute the burnings. Jones soon appears on CNN, and on July 30, is asked by the National Association of Evangelicals to call off the planned Koran-burning. In August, a Sunni scholars’ center at al-Azhar University in Cairo issues a statement condemning the plan to burn Korans and warning that doing so could have “dangerous consequences.” By early September, protesters in Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are taking to the streets in opposition to Jones. (Gerhart and Londono 9/10/2010)
History of Controversy in Germany and Florida - Jones calls himself a doctor and claims he was awarded an honorary doctorate of theology degree from the unaccredited California Graduate School of Theology in Rosemead in 1983, but the university has never confirmed this, and later says the degree it awarded to Jones is strictly honorary. Jones, a native of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a high-school classmate of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, is a former hotel manager and Christian missionary. He and his wife Sylvia were asked to leave Germany in 2008, where he and Lisa Jones had established a small church in Cologne, the Christliche Gemeinde Koln. One of his three children accused them of “financial and labor abuses,” and told authorities that “the workforce was comprised of the Jones’s disciples, who work for no wages and live cost-free in tatty properties owned by the couple.” People who listened to some of Jones’s sermons in the Cologne church later recall them as “hate-filled.” Jones became involved in the Dove Center in 2003, when it was led by Dennis Watson, and for five years shuttled between the US and Germany to work at both sites. In 2008, after being forced to leave Germany, he took over the leadership of the Dove Center fulltime. When Jones took over the leadership, the church had about 100 members; that number has dwindled to between 30 and 50 now. A former employee expelled from the Dove Center later tells reporters that punishments for disobedience in the church include carrying a life-size wooden cross, writing out all of Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, or cleaning the barnacles off Jones’s boat in Tampa. Jones’s daughter Emma, a child from his first marriage, still lives in Germany and has no contact with her father, but reportedly contacts him and asks him not to carry out his threats to burn Korans. She told a German reporter that her father’s church was little more than “a cult.” Andrew Schafer, a Protestant Church official responsible for monitoring sects in the region where Cologne is located, will say that Jones has a “delusional personality.” (Musharbash and Peters 9/8/2010; Smith 9/11/2010; Daily Mail 4/2/2011)
For-Profit Activities - Jones also runs an antique and used furniture store, TS and Company, on the grounds of the church; the company had its tax-exempt status revoked in 2009 when Alachua County tax officials determined that it was a for-profit organization masquerading as a non-profit religious entity; his bank will soon demand he repay the church’s $140,000 mortgage. Former members who were brought to the United States on religious visas have said they were made to work as many as 12 hours a day packing furniture (religious visas do not allow work at for-profit companies). He also runs the “Dove World Academy,” a six-month-long boot camp-esque regiment of discipline and working without pay. Those who are enrolled are not allowed contact with family members for six months and are required to wear khaki uniforms and address church leaders as sir or ma’am. The tuition costs $500. (Goodman 9/7/2010; Smith 9/11/2010; Daily Mail 4/2/2011)
'Islam Is the Devil - Jones is the author of a book, Islam is the Devil, a phrase often used on church property. In August 2009, two children who are members of the church were sent home from school after coming to class wearing T-shirts reading “Islam is the Devil.” Jones is often seen on the 20-acre church compound with a pistol strapped to his hip. Of the phrase, Jones says: “It’s an act of saying there is only one way, and that is actually what Christianity is about. It is about pointing the people in the right direction, and that right direction is Jesus and only Jesus. We feel the sign is an act of giving the people a chance.… I think every pastor, every Christian pastor in this city, must be in agreement with the message. They might find the message a little bit too direct, but they must be in agreement with the message because the only way is the Bible and Jesus.” The sign is regularly vandalized, Jones says, and is repaired and replaced when it is damaged. Neighbor Aubrey Davies tells a reporter: “When we originally saw it, we were initially very offended.… We’re sad it is up. It is such a divisive message when it could be used to put out a statement of unity.” Saeed Khan, a University of Florida professor and a practicing Muslim, says it is important not to overreact to the sign. “There are a couple of things on this that come to mind, and first there is freedom of speech,” he says. “People are free to say, but then society has to think about it. When it becomes inflamed, the reaction on both sides can be detrimental to the people that live there. You have to make some kind of balance.” Jones says future signs may express his opposition to same-sex marriage or abortion. (Fisher and Voyles 7/8/2009; Goodman 9/7/2010; Smith 9/11/2010; Daily Mail 4/2/2011)
'The Braveheart Show' - Jones spends much of his time in his office, which is adorned with a poster from the movie Braveheart and a photograph of former US President George W. Bush. He has launched a series of YouTube videos he calls the “Braveheart Show,” which feature anti-Islamic diatribes. (Adams 9/7/2010; Goodman 9/7/2010)
False Rumor of Child Porn Conviction - Rumors circulating on the Internet and repeated by some media outlets that Jones was convicted on child pornography charges have proven to be false. (Goodman 9/7/2010)


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