Southern Baptist fundamentalists continued their hateful attack on non-Christian religions this week at their annual convention, meeting in St. Louis.
Former SBC president Jerry Vines told pastors “Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives, and his last one was a 9-year-old girl.” The pastors applauded, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., blamed religious pluralism for America’s problems and implied that Allah was the source of terrorism.
James Merritt, current SBC president, and Jack Graham, president-elect, refused to repudiate Vines’ statements.
Merritt agreed with Vines that Muhammad was a pedophile, while Graham said Vines’ statement was accurate, according to the Chronicle.
Bill Merrell, spokesman for the SBC’s Executive Committee, also declined to censure Vines’ statements.
Hate speech has become a predictable event at the SBC’s June meetings. But Vines sermon remarks disclose a peculiar blindness to the moorings of Christian faith, his pastoral leadership and the reality of global communications.
When Vines seeks to discredit the Islamic faith, he opens the Christian faith to stinging criticism about its own flaws.
The New Testament’s list of heroes and heroines of the faith include Abraham, the polygamist; Moses, the murderer; and Rahab, the prostitute.
It also includes David, the adulterer, who had his mistress’ husband murdered. The same David became angry but did nothing when his son, Amnon, raped his sister and David’s daughter, Tamar. These and others hardly provide the kind of storyline to describe the perfect traditional family.
Just as we hope our own faith will not be disfigured by flawed biblical characters, we should avoid besmirching flawed characters in other religions. It is simply a matter of practicing the golden rule: “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.”
Yet in Vines’ effort to play to his audience, he forgot about his own pastoral leadership. According to the Times-Union, one of his deacons was arrested and charged in April with molesting teenage boys.
Vines and the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville likely do not want to be discredited by the alleged criminal behavior of one of its leaders.
Finally, Vines showed a lack of understanding about the reality of global communications. His statements appeared today in newspapers across the country. His comments will certainly spread around the world with no constructive results in a global society set on edge.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, warned that Vines remarks could hurt Americans abroad and harm missionaries.
If Vines is really “a prince of preachers,” as Merritt said, maybe we need less royalty in the pulpit and more thoughtful servants of God.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.