As news spreads throughout the Islamic world via IslamOnline.net, MuslimNews.co.uk and Islam.org about the Rev. Jerry Vines’ anti-Islamic remarks at last week’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, many fear his words may make an already volatile environment for missionaries even worse.
Vines, a former SBC president, 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.”
Barbara Baldridge, co-coordinator for global missions for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, said Vines’ remarks make an already stressful situation for missionaries even more difficult.
“People do not generally know that there are different kinds of Baptists,” Baldridge told EthicsDaily.com. “We all get lumped together.”
Not only will many assume that Vines’ remarks are embraced by all Baptists, but they may attribute his remarks to Christians in general, she said.
Patty Lane, director of intercultural initiatives for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, told EthicsDaily.com that Baptists will have to do some explaining.
“This is an important time for Baptists to make some clarification that there is no one Baptist that speaks for all Baptists,” she said. “Hopefully, this will create an opportunity for better dialogue and a clearer explanation.”
Lane knows what Baptists abroad might be experiencing in light of Vines’ remarks.
A little over two decades ago, Lane was working with high school children in Israel when news spread about then SBC President Bailey Smith’s statement that “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.”
She said she remembers having to do some explaining when the youth asked her, “Is that true?” and “Do you really believe that?”
As a former missionary to the largely Muslim Indonesia, Frank Wells is concerned about the danger Vines’ remarks might pose for missionaries in Muslim countries.
In an e-mail to Vines at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., where he pastors, Wells wrote, “In the volatile atmosphere that prevails in the world today, you may have cost some missionaries their lives, not to mention the additional justification you have given to radical Muslims for their hatred, violence and terror.”
Samuel Shahid, professor of Islamic studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, also said Vines’ remarks could be potentially harmful to missionaries.
“I think we should be very careful what we say here,” Shahid told the Houston Chronicle. “We should be very careful to take into consideration our foreign missionaries.”
Baldridge said she didn’t anticipate an immediate need to take higher security measures in light of Vines’ remarks.
“Missionaries are already very sensitive to the environment where they are working. They watch the news,” she said. If the rhetoric continues to spread and reactions escalate, she said, the security issue may need to be revisited.
“The real challenge now is finding out what we can do to assure all those we work with other religions that we appreciate them, that we want to share the love of Christ and don’t demonize their faith,” Baldridge said.
In many cases, missionaries will be forced to start afresh, Lane said.
“Anyone sharing their faith knows that you begin with an established mutual respect,” Lane said. “It will be harder to start there now. We can’t start at zero anymore. Now we have to start at negative five.”
Jodi Mathews is communications director for EthicsDaily.com.