The crude and careless rhetoric of a Southern Baptist preacher may have endangered the lives of Christian people around the world.

In a sermon at the annual Southern Baptist Convention, Rev. Jerry Vines launched an attack on Islam calling Mohammad a “demon-possessed pedophile” and accusing him of consummating one of his 12 marriages with a nine-year old girl.

This effort to demonize an enemy is an old political and religious tactic. It bears a striking resemblance to Muslim clerics targeting America as “the great Satan.”

Southern Baptist leaders defended Vines; who, in turn, refused to apologize and rejected an invitation for conversation with Muslim leaders in his own city of Jacksonville, Florida.
None of us should be surprised if enraged Muslims do not retaliate, taking out their anger on some innocent Christian person.

The Philippine rebels who abducted Martin Burnham and his wife had not targeted them because they were Christian missionaries; that could now change. Simply put, this speech is more likely to result in the burial of a Baptist than the baptism of a Muslim.

During this past year, most American leaders have been careful to distinguish the radicalized edge of Islam from its mainstream manifestations. All civilized people, including many Muslims, have denounced the irrational campaign of terror now being perpetrated in the name of Allah.

Instead of such distinctions, Vines pictured Islam as a fountainhead of violence and asserted that the Christian God would not inspire anyone to kill innocent people. Vines evidently failed to remember our own Christian heritage of murder and mayhem:

  • fourth-century Roman Emperor Constantine conquering the world under the sign of the cross;
  • 11th-and 12th-century Christian Crusaders slaughtering millions of Jews, Muslims and even other followers of Christ;
  • 17th-century Protestants and Catholics killing each other in Europe’s wars of religion;
  • Spanish conquistadors invading the New World and decimating entire civilizations;
  • and Vines’ own Baptist ancestors helping to plunder Africa to supply southern plantations with slave labor.

All religions have factions that are violent, vicious and self-righteous to the core. There are Christians who burn crosses, bomb abortion clinics, murder homosexuals, and even “go for the jugular” (to use the metaphor adopted to describe the effort by Vines and others to take control of their own convention several years ago).

Motives in many of these episodes may parallel those of Muslims who hijack airplanes or of Jews who gun down worshippers at mosques (as happened a few years ago). All want to defeat evil (and apostasy) in the name of God.

I count myself among the millions of Christians, including Baptists, who reject the mean and malevolent rhetoric of this minister from Jacksonville.

Most Baptist people in Kentucky and elsewhere are fully aware of the violent tendencies of some Islamic leaders. Nevertheless, we seek to build bridges of understanding and compassion rather than construct barricades of prejudice and ridicule.

This, however, is not to deny the mission of Christ, including the responsibility of Christians to evangelize people of every nation. We are to understand, welcome and witness to all people, including the people of Islam.

In this context, we are right to protest the lack of religious freedom in some countries controlled by Muslim ideology.  But the call to tell the story of Jesus to people everywhere cannot be distorted into the right to denigrate, distort and demean those whose convictions run counter to Christian faith.

There is a more depressing aspect to this episode. The inflammatory rhetoric of this Southern Baptist preacher may inspire hundreds of young pulpiteers to “go and do likewise.” Do not be surprised if the spirit and substance of this ill-conceived demagoguery is echoed in churches across the country.

Finally, the ultimate and truly awful irony of this sad situation is that Southern Baptist leaders, instead of apologizing for the inappropriate remarks of their chosen spokesman, will denounce all criticism, including this column, as persecution.

And then they’ll use this persecution complex to rally troops and raise money for the battle against evil and apostasy.

Dwight Moody is dean of the chapel at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky.

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