March 26, 2001 -- The congregation of a church in suburban Pittsburgh gathered around a bonfire Sunday night to burn Harry Potter books, Disney videos, rock CDs and literature from other religions, purging their lives of things they felt stood between them and their faith.
"Our purpose comes out of the Bible," the Rev. George Bender of the Harvest Assembly of God Church in Butler County. "We read in the Bible how people, after they received Jesus Christ as their savior, took things out of their homes and burned them. They [the members of the congregation] received Christ and they willingly did this."
The church has a regular Sunday evening service, which does not include a bonfire. But this week the congregation wanted to do a little more, and 35 people brought books, CDs and tapes that they felt were not in keeping with their faith.
"We did it in the open so that people would ask why," Bender said, adding that the church has not asked that any of the material they burned be banned from bookstores or libraries, and that even among the congregation there was no pressure to participate.
He pointed out that just one-third of the congregation brought things to burn. He said those who participated included a mix of new and longtime members of the church.
"There's no such thing as a crusade to deal with other people's things. That's their business," he said. "We believe in the First Amendment, the Second Amendment, and the First Commandment and Second Commandment."
Animated videos such as Pinnochio and Hercules were also among the items thrown in the fire, which also included Pearl Jam and Black Sabbath CDs, and pamphlets from Jehovah's Witnesses.
‘Message Is Clear’
The Harry Potter books, so popular with children and parents, have drawn fire from religious leaders before for their depiction of a boy who consorts with wizards and uses magic.
"We believe that Harry Potter promotes sorcery, witchcraft-type things, the paranormal, things that are against God," Bender said. "That is really bad."
A spokeswoman for Scholastic, the publisher of the books, said they are more about a child who feels powerless in the world understanding that he can take some control of his life. She said the message sent by burning books is more dangerous than any fable about sorcery could be.
"I think burning books is shameful," Scholastic spokeswoman Judy Corman said. "The message is very clear by inference. I think he's saying something very strong."