A German television program denounced Southern Baptist missionaries in Iraq as “America’s Holy Warriors,” comparing their spiritual and humanitarian work to Islamic terrorist attacks, Assist News Service reported Tuesday.
A German writer described the report by the TV magazine “Panorama,” which quoted Baptists saying they were prepared to die for their convictions. “Good times for a Holy War,” the “Panorama” report summed it up.
The Federation of Evangelical-Free Churches (Baptist) in Germany criticized the report, which aired June 24 on a major German network, as “one sided” and distanced German Baptists from the Southern Baptist Convention.
Arab Baptists have also been in Iraq a long time, said Baptist union spokesman Friedrich Schneider, and generally use more sensitive approaches than those from the United States.
German Baptists, he said, do not support “insensitive missionary directness” or disrespect for Islam.
Karl Heinz Walter, former general secretary of the European Baptist Federation, said the story put all Baptists in “a bad light.” Most Baptists around the world do not identify with Southern Baptists, he said, adding that the SBC recently chose to withdraw from the Baptist World Alliance.
Journalist Volker Steinhoff defended the “Panorama” program, saying it focused on Southern Baptists and not all Baptists. He said there is no doubt that mission activities have produced “much displeasure and hate” in Iraq.
A spokesman for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment before this story was written Thursday afternoon.
It isn’t the first time Southern Baptists have been criticized for sending missionaries to Iraq, which like many Muslim countries doesn’t issue visas for religious workers.
Charles Kimball, author of When Religion Becomes Evil, said at a conference in March that sending U.S. missionaries into Iraq alongside American troops “was exactly the wrong thing to do,” because it inflames Muslim extremists who view the war as a crusade against Islam.
“Anything that smacks of Christian imperialism or a crusade plays right into the worst fears that are out there,” Kimball told ministerial leaders invited to a two-day seminar near Williamsburg, Va., sponsored by the Nashville-based Baptist Center for Ethics.
The Los Angeles Times in March quoted a Shiite Muslim leader who said Iraqis “already see the American occupation as a religious war,” and that Shiite and Sunni clerics have discussed issuing a fatwa, or religious ban, against missionaries.
BCE Executive Director Robert Parham recently criticized ties between SBC president Bobby Welch and a controversial Christian general in the U.S. war on terrorism as putting the convention “on the side of theocrats in their holy war against Muslims.”
Four Southern Baptist workers are already among civilian casualties of the war. They died in a March 15 drive-by shooting in northern Iraq.
Officials of the SBC International Mission Board said they were there for humanitarian reasons and not to proselytize.
“We don’t have any missionaries in Iraq,” IMB spokesman Bill Bangham said in the Baltimore Sun. “We have humanitarian relief workers. They’re demonstrating God’s love through their projects.”
Baptist Press, however, routinely refers to the slain workers as “martyrs.”
Carrie McDonnall, sole survivor of the attack and widow of one of the victims, received a hero’s welcome at last month’s Southern Baptist Convention.
“We have to keep going to the hard places. We have to keep going to the violent places,” she told Baptist Press. “God’s call was not just to go to the places that were easy.”
IMB President Jerry Rankin told messengers at the annual meeting in Indianapolis that rather than discouraging others from missionary service, the tragic deaths have rather “inspired others to follow in their steps, and their example calls us all to a greater sacrifice and obedience.”
A speaker at the SBC Pastors Conference who grew up as a Muslim implied that he might be a terrorist today had he not converted to Christianity. “Jesus strapped a cross on his back so I wouldn’t have to strap a bomb on mine,” said Liberty University professor Ergun Caner, author of Unveiling Islam: An Insider’s Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.