During a press briefing yesterday afternoon, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush “definitely disagrees with” Jerry Vines’ anti-Islamic statement.
Speaking to the pastors’ conference, Vines, a former SBC president, condemned American pluralism and charged that the prophet Muhammad was “a demon-possessed pedophile.”
The next day in a satellite broadcast to the SBC meeting, President Bush said Baptists “were among the earliest champions of religious tolerance and freedom.”
“Faith teaches us to respect those with whom we disagree. It teaches us to tolerate one another,” he said.
When a reporter asked yesterday if President Bush agreed with Vines’ statement, Fleischer said, “The president said Islam is a religion of peace.”
“That’s what the President believes,” Fleischer said.
Fleischer suggested that Vines’ statements were not representative of the Southern Baptist Convention.
On Thursday morning, the Washington Post reported that Bush “apparently was unaware of Vines’ statement when he praised the Southern Baptist Convention last week for its tradition of tolerance.”
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told the Post that “the president’s views are very clear. The president believes Islam is a religion that teaches peace. The president believes in religious tolerance and respects people of all faiths.”
After Vines made his statement and Bush spoke to the SBC meeting, EthicsDaily.com left repeated messages at the White House, asking if Bush was aware of Vines’ comments and if he agreed with them. The White House did not respond to EthicsDaily.com’s requests for clarification.
Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, said he was grateful that Bush finally distanced himself from Vines’ harmful remarks.
“The apocalyptic and nationalistic theology of Christian fundamentalism unnecessarily inflames global tensions,” Parham said. “The White House would do well to dissociate itself from Christian extremists.”