A Southern Baptist leader who three years ago defended a former convention president for declaring the Muslim prophet Muhammad a “demon-possessed pedophile” said Tuesday he disapproves of a sign at a small North Carolina church saying the Quran “needs to be flushed.”

The pastor who displayed and later removed the sign called it a “double standard, which is tantamount to hypocrisy.”

Morris Chapman, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, issued a statement through Baptist Press criticizing the sign at the SBC-affiliated Danieltown Baptist Church in Forest City, N.C.

The sign, reading “The Quran needs to be flushed,” was a reference to a retracted Newsweek article reporting alleged desecration of the Quran by interrogators at the Guantanamo prison in Cuba. The White House blamed the story for rioting that killed at least 15 people in Afghanistan.

“Of course, the Quran does not support the beliefs of Southern Baptists, but we recognize and respect the rights of Muslims to believe as they choose,” Chapman said. “Furthermore, Southern Baptists wish to relate to our Muslim neighbors in a respectful manner that allows mutual sharing of our beliefs.”

Chapman called it “lamentable” that Creighton Lovelace, pastor of Danieltown Baptist Church, would place a message on a sign at his church applauding desecration of the Quran.

Lovelace at first refused to apologize, but on Wednesday issued a statement saying he didn’t mean to offend Muslims, but only to remind people of his community that the Bible is God’s word. He said he did not realize how highly many Muslims revere the Quran, and after praying about it he chose to remove the sign.

“I apologize for posting the message and deeply regret that it has offended so many in the Muslim community,” Lovelace said. He said his retraction was motivated by concern for the safety of Southern Baptist missionaries and Muslims in America.

Chapman was among Southern Baptist leaders who defended former SBC president Jerry Vines after he said at the 2002 SBC Pastors Conference: “They would have us to believe that Islam is just as good as Christianity, but I’m here to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that Islam is not just as good as Christianity.”

“Christianity was founded by the virgin-born son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ,” Vines said. “Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives, and his last one was a 9-year-old girl. And I will tell you, Allah is not Jehovah, either. Jehovah’s not going to turn you into a terrorist that’ll try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people.”

The Islamic Center of Northeast Florida protested Vines’ comment.

“It is one thing to get into a discussion of differences between Islam and Christianity–it is completely different to use hate-filled rhetoric to demonize a religion and its leader,” wrote the Muslim group’s president. “What is even more troubling–based upon the applause you received at the convention, and based on the support from other leaders of your church at the convention–that how many Southern Baptists have these incorrect and bigoted beliefs.”

Chapman defended Vines in a Baptist Press story dated June 19, 2002.

“Dr. Jerry Vines is known universally to be one of Southern Baptists’ finest pulpiteers and most effective and compassionate pastors,” Chapman told Baptist Press. “Those who know him well also acknowledge him as one of our most studious and careful pastor-scholars. His remarks about Muhammad’s history and character would have been made only after thorough reflection on the Islamic sources. Those who have attacked him and his statements have yet to answer that documentation. The evidence is overwhelming and consistent–leading to only one conclusion: Dr. Vines is right in his assertions.”

“Dr. Vines’ courage and candor are grounded in his integrity as a man of God, and we fully support his leadership among Southern Baptists and the evangelical community,” Chapman added.

Asked about Chapman’s comments, Lovelace told EthicsDaily.com, “I think it’s sad to see a double-standard, which is tantamount to hypocrisy.”

Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., said he got his information about Muhammad from a book by two Baptist professors and former Muslims, Ergun and Emir Caner, titled Unveiling Islam.

Ergun Caner, at the time a professor at Criswell College in Dallas, told Baptist Press in 2002 that he thanked God for what Vines had said.

“Dr. Vines brought to the American forefront something the world of Islam has known for centuries,” Caner said. “It’s controversial because it has entered the American philosophical arena. For that reason, I thank God for what Dr. Vines said.”

Caner at the time noted that everything Vines said “has been known in Islam for 1,300 years.”

Newly named dean of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University theological seminary, Caner recently told the Associated Press he never said the prophet Muhammad was a pedophile possessed by demons and that his comments were misquoted.

“What I did say was that Muhammad at age 50 did marry a 6-year-old and the marriage was consummated when she was 9 years old,” Caner said in the story posted on his Web site. “Muslims are not hateful people.”

Another SBC leader, Richard Land of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, also criticized the decision by the North Carolina church to post the controversial sign.

“If we want other people to respect our religious symbols and documents we need to respect the symbols and documents that they believe are sacred,” Land said in the Raleigh News & Observer. “What positive purpose does this serve? None. It’s not going to make it easier to evangelize Muslims or foster respect for our religious beliefs.”

Asked for a response to a demand by the Council on American-Islamic Relations for an apology from the SBC for Vines’ comments in 2002, Land said, “We don’t get our instructions from [them],” according to a report in Christianity Today.

“Southern Baptist fundamentalists are flip-flopping about Islam,” Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said Wednesday. “They readily defended Jerry Vines’ harmful remarks. Now, they are back flipping away from Creighton Lovelace’s mean-spirited sign, attempting to sound civil and respectful.”

“After two decades of hateful comments about Muslims, Jews, Catholics, moderate Baptists, mainline Protestants and Democrats,” Parham predicted, “Southern Baptist leaders will find it impossible to convince the discerning public that they have left behind the hate that is synonymous with fundamentalism.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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