Baptist pastor's words shock Muslim leaders

Baptist pastor's words shock Muslim leaders
Special to the Star-Telegram

ST. LOUIS - A former Southern Baptist Convention
president stirred interfaith tumult when he described
Muhammad, Islam's revered founder, as a
"demon-possessed pedophile."

The Rev. Jerry Vines made the comments Monday night at
the Southern Baptist Pastors Conference, drawing
strong denunciation from Muslim leaders Tuesday when
his statements were publicized.

But the Rev. Jack Graham, the new president of the
Southern Baptist Convention, and the Rev. James
Merritt, outgoing president, supported Vines.

Hodan Hassan, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based
Council for American-Islamic Relations, said Vines'
comments were divisive and inaccurate.

"This kind of hate-filled rhetoric is very shocking,"
Hassan said. "It is especially surprising to see it
coming from someone of that stature making such a
statement concerning a religion that is practiced by
one-fifth of the world's population."

Vines, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of
Jacksonville, Fla., deplored the rising tide of

"Today, people are saying all religions are the same,"
Vines said. "They would have us believe Islam is just
as good as Christianity. But I'm here to tell you,
ladies and gentlemen, that Islam is not as good as
Christianity. Christianity was founded by the
virgin-born Lord Jesus Christ. Islam was founded by
Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives
and his last one was a 9-year-old girl."

Muslims maintain that they are the descendants of the
Judeo-Christian progenitor Abraham and serve the same
God as Jews and Christians, even though they call him

But Vines said: "Allah is not Jehovah. Jehovah is not
going to turn you into a terrorist that'll try to bomb
people and take the lives of thousands and thousands
of people."

Hassan said, "I would hope that responsible people of
the Southern Baptist Convention would deliver a strong
denunciation of Reverend Vines' comments."

But during a news conference Tuesday, Graham quoted
from Unveiling Islam, which was written by two former
Muslims who are professors at conservative Baptist
theological schools. Authors Ergun Caner, an assistant
professor at Criswell College in Dallas, and Emir
Caner, an assistant professor at Southeastern Baptist
Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., said
Muhammad had numerous concubines and 13 wives,
including the 9-year-old girl, Graham said.

Syad Ahsani of Arlington, Southwest regional chairman
of the American Muslim Alliance, said Muhammad was
betrothed to the child, which was a common practice;
however, such marriages weren't consummated until
children reached adolescence.

Hassan said it is not known when Muhammad's marriage
was consummated.

Muhammad was involved in polygamy, but so were early
Jewish leaders, others said.

Selod Faroog, an orthopedic surgeon and an Islamic
spokesman in Fort Worth, said: "People who can't face
the truth come out and make accusations like this. If
Muhammad was heavily involved in multiple wives, he
wouldn't have had time to spend all night praying like
tradition says."

Reaction to Vines' comment came as the annual meeting
formally began with about 9,600 messengers, or
delegates. President Bush addressed the Baptists by
satellite Tuesday morning, praising them for their
belief that religion should not be separated from
political life.

Later, 12 gay activists from the California-based
SoulForce, perennial protesters at the convention,
were arrested as they tried to disrupt Merritt's
convention message. Some protesters shouted, "Please
hear us. ... God loves his gay and lesbian children,"
before they were carried away by police and charged
with trespassing motivated by religious

Outside, 37 people were arrested when they refused to
obey a police order not to turn away from the
America's Center. They were charged with failing to
obey a police officer.

Merritt worked the protesters into his sermon, saying
they are examples of the nation's "culture war" going
on in the nation.

"We love homosexuals," he said. "God loves
homosexuals, but he loves them too much to leave them

Still, some Southern Baptists said Vines' comments
could hurt efforts for Muslims and Christians to work

"That language is so offensive that it tears down any
bridge we might have to speak to Muslims about
Christianity," said Bruce Prescott, executive director
of Oklahoma Mainstream Baptists, a moderate group.

Even some conservatives who agree with Vines'
assessment had reservations about his statements.

Richard Land, director of the Southern Baptist Ethics
& Religious Liberty Commission, said, "I agree with
Dr. Vines: There is no way to salvation except through
Jesus Christ." But Vines' language differed from what
he would use, Land said.

Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist
Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said that
Muhammad is a complex figure and that he did not know
enough about his life to comment on the pedophile

Baptists have angered other religious groups with
their statements and tactics. Some Baptist
congregations prayed for the conversion of Muslims to
Christianity during Ramadan, a period for religious
observances in Islam.

Baptists distributed literature on how to convert
Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, which they describe
as "cults," in 2000.

In 1999, some Baptists publicly called for prayers
during Jewish holy days for conversion of Jews to

In other action Tuesday, Baptist moderates asked that
Southern Baptist missionaries who were hired under
older Baptist Faith and Message Statements be allowed
to continue serving even if they refuse to affirm the
newer, more controversial 2000 Baptist Faith and

The requests were referred to the International
Mission Board and the North American Mission Board,
effectively killing them.

Another motion asked the Southern Baptist Convention
to recognize only one state convention in each state.
Texas, Virginia and Missouri have competing state

If approved, it could severely affect the Baptist
General Convention of Texas, which is controlled by
moderates. An alternative convention, the Southern
Baptists of Texas, led by conservatives, is strongly
supported by the national Southern Baptist Convention.

Staff writer Brett Hoffman contributed to this report.


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