On September 11, members of the Dove World Outreach Center — a Gainesville, Florida church — plan to burn copies of the Koran to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The protest is just the latest in a series of provocative actions from the self-described “New Testament Church,” which seems as interested in getting attention as it is in sharing the Word with the world. Unfortunately, their plan seems to have worked — and local investigators began probing the church’s tax-exempt status last year after reports that Dove World Outreach Center is essentially a scam.
The church, which was founded in 1986, has long been controversial in Gainesville. The Koran-burning protest is just the latest in a string of high-profile “protests on other issues, such as homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and abortion,” Religion News Service reports. But it seems clear that taking on Muslims is the one of the church’s central goals. The church’s leader, Dr. Terry Jones — who before heading up the Dove World Outreach Center ran a sister church in Cologne, Germany — has published a book entitled “Islam is of the Devil” and last year posted a large sign outside his church that offered passing commuters the same message. Last year, members sent their kids to public schools wearing “Islam Is Of The Devil” t-shirts (the students were sent home, creating more headlines.) The church’s website features a number of videos where Jones takes on Islam as…well, you can probably guess.
But as the Gainesville Sun reported last year, there is one thing Jones likes doing more than burning books — and that’s making money. Sun reporter Megan Rolland delved into the church’s numerous for-profit business interests and found a church that local officials say may be violating its tax-exempt status.
From the Sun:
By all accounts - the church’s Web site, interviews with current and former members and Terry Jones’ own description - the church in Gainesville, as was the one in Germany, is structured with a for-profit business operating out of tax-exempt church property, using the unpaid labor of church members to maintain a steady stream of merchandise for sale online.
Turns out the church that’s grabbing national headlines today thanks to the Koran-burning scheme is better known in Florida for allegedly operating for the financial benefit of Jones and his wife, Sylvia. In addition to a school and a food bank, the church operates a number of for-profit businesses, mostly through eBay.
More from the Sun’s 2009 takedown:
Entwined with the church’s message is a theme stressing obedience to senior pastors and work for the kingdom of God - a theme that persuaded one couple from Germany to work full time and uncompensated for Terry and Sylvia Jones’ business, TS and Company. The business sells vintage furniture on eBay.
Outside contact, even with family for weddings and funerals, is prohibited for students who attend the Dove World Outreach Academy in Gainesville. The academy members live on property owned by TS and Company, work in the selling, packing and shipping of furniture and are unpaid.
At the end of March, The Independent Florida Alligator reported that county investigators were probing the church for possibly violating tax-exemption laws. So did the Sun. And in April, the church was reportedly facing “mortgage issues.”
Now, it seems, it’s all catching up to the Joneses, and fast.
Correction: This post originally stated that the headquarters of the church “were suddenly and inexplicably put on the market” on Thursday. This was incorrect — the headquarters went on the market last year. This post also incorrectly implied that the Sun report had been published in recent days. The Sun story was from 2009. We regret the errors.