What-s wrong with a few strong words?
June 28 2002 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

What's wrong with a few strong words? | Friday, June 28, 2002

Friday, June 28, 2002

What's wrong with a few strong words?

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

The 2002 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention included a video visit from the president, high-profile reports from mission boards, the introduction of new initiatives on the family and the Kingdom of God, and the annual protest by Soulforce, a group that promotes religious acceptance of homosexuality.

But historians will likely remember the convention as the year Jerry Vines took on Mohammed, with worldwide repercussions.

Vines, a former SBC president, is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. While arguing for the superiority of Christianity to Islam during the annual Pastors' Conference, Vines called Mohammed, who founded the religion practiced by one-fifth of the world's population, "a demon-possessed pedophile."

"Allah is not Jehovah, either," he added, and "Jehovah is not going to turn anyone into a terrorist that will try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people."

Vines later defended his statements by pointing to some of Islam's own writings, quoted in the recently published Unveiling Islam, by Emil and Ergun Caner. Some Islamic sources suggest that Mohammed believed demons were tormenting him until one of his wives convinced him his visions came from Allah, and that another of his dozen or so wives and concubines was only nine years old when the marriage was consummated.

One could point to the cultural setting of 7th century Arabia and question whether those statements make Mohammed "a demon-possessed pedophile," since there is no evidence that he was unnaturally attracted to children in general.

But let's assume, for the sake of the argument, that Vines' statements have some historical grounding.

What's wrong with a few strong words when you're standing up for the truth?

While spokespeople for Muslims, Jews, interfaith groups, the White House, and a whole gaggle of others (including some Baptists) have either condemned or distanced themselves from Vines' comments, SBC leaders have circled the wagons to defend him.

Past and current presidents of the SBC, convention officials and several seminary presidents have gone on the record to support the accuracy of Vines' statements and the propriety of his speaking the truth. Their statements, reported by Baptist Press, generally endorse Vines' comments as a simple effort to hold high the cross and the exclusive claim of salvation through Christ.

Vines himself has steadfastly refused to back down from the comments or their manner of presentation. In a statement to his church, he said he has a 20-year track record of being a loving pastor who loves Muslims and wants them to be saved, and that he's too busy to talk about it any more.

So what's wrong with a few strong words?

Here are a few things I believe to be wrong with those strong words.

First, even if one regards the statements as historically accurate, they did not come across as being couched in love or gentleness of speech, which the Bible demands of Christians. Proclaiming the truth does not oblige one to call names. One does not build relationships with Muslims or any other religious group by besmirching their revered founder.

Surely Vines would not use such language in personal conversations with Muslim people. The SBC Pastors' Conference is such a public forum that one must assume that the entire world is listening, and the same kind of tact is required. Vines' comments came across like one boy on the playground saying "yo' mama" to another boy, which inevitably starts a fight.

A second thing wrong with such strong words is that they could easily damage mission efforts to Muslim peoples. Baptists will be branded as people who hold Muslims in low esteem, adding to the enmity many Eastern Muslims already feel toward Western Christians. Suspicions will increase, bridges carefully built across time may be broken, and doing missions will become increasingly difficult.

A third problem with those strong words is that they are likely to endanger the lives of other Baptists, some of whom are already working in very tenuous and dangerous situations.

The next time an extremist group that uses Islam as a pretext for violence decides to attack American civilians, Baptist gatherings could become targets. When the next SBC meeting is held in Phoenix, increased security will be needed for more reasons than to keep Soulforce members out of the convention hall.

The next time terrorists in the Philippines or in Philadelphia decide to conduct a high profile kidnapping, they may be more inclined to target Baptists. As Dwight Moody noted, Vines' speech "is more likely to result in the burial of a Baptist than the baptism of a Muslim."

So what's wrong with a few kind words?

Like, "I'm sorry to have caused offense. I still believe Mohammed was mistaken and that salvation is through Christ alone, but I should have spoken more carefully."

Is that so hard?

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6/28/2002 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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