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Church group burns Harry Potter books, Shania Twain CDs

Town shrugs at event that brought it infamy

August 6, 2003

BY TAMARA AUDI
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

Until this weekend, the small western Michigan town of Greenville had gained modest fame as home to the annual Danish Festival, the first Meijer Thrifty Acres and the world's largest refrigerator factory.

And, as far as anyone knew, it had nothing against the fictional British wizard Harry Potter or the Coneheads.

Which is why, when members of the town's Jesus Non-denominational Church gathered Sunday to burn an eclectic collection of books, CDs and videos, the people of Greenville seemed perplexed.

"What kind of an image are they setting in the community?" asked the Rev. Mark Shaw, senior pastor at Calvary Baptist, another local church. He dismissed the burning as a misguided publicity stunt.

Misguided, perhaps, but effective. The story shot across wire services and the Internet and by Monday afternoon, the friendly town whose Web site touts its summertime performances of the play "Thumbelina," was suddenly infamous for hosting an old-fashioned book-burning.

Disparate items were tossed into the Sunday bonfire: Harry Potter burned alongside copies of the Shania Twain album, "The Woman in Me." A copy of the Dan Aykroyd movie "Coneheads" was thrown into the flames with the Book of Mormon.

The items were connected by a line that only participants could see. None of the books, music or movies promoted God, church members said.

About 50 congregants gathered for the burning. A few said the fire was divinely inspired.

"This was definitely by the Holy Spirit," said Bonnie Conran, a church member.

The church's bishop, the Rev. T.D. Turner Sr., said in a news release that the congregation "will burn Harry Potter books and other witchcraft items to let the world know that there are true followers of Jesus Christ who will not call evil good.

"We at Jesus Non-denominational Church refuse to allow Satan to take the minds of our children," Turner said. "We will do all that is in us to stand and hold up a standard of righteousness and we will win."

"It's important for children to know that Harry Potter is witchcraft," Jill Turner, the bishop's wife, told the Daily News. "It really afflicts their minds."

The church is far from the first to burn copies of Harry Potter. The book has been burned for years by fundamentalist Christian groups.

In 2001, a church in New Mexico burned copies of the book along with Eminem CDs and copies of the movie "Snow White." The same year, a church in suburban Pittsburgh burned Potter books, too.

The burnings often sparked counter-protests from Potter fans and civil rights advocates.

Greenville took a more live-and-let-live approach.

"They can buy books and burn them as long as they choose to burn their own books," said Tara Conaway, director of the Flat River Community Library. "I won't tell them what to read as long as they don't tell me what to read."

The library, which serves Greenville, has copies of the Harry Potter series.

The Rev. Terry Jones, senior pastor of First Congregational Church of Greenville, agreed that members of the Jesus Non-denominational Church have the right to burn books. But he said the Bible has stood the test of time and "can stand on its own."

"We ought not be afraid of any other books or movies or anything of that nature," Jones said. "Harry Potter won't destroy the gospel."

Now, back to Greenville's regularly scheduled programming: The first chess club meet of the year is Aug. 28.

Contact TAMARA AUDI at 313-222-6582 or audi@freepress.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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