Southern Baptists taking heat for anti-Islam speech

ST. LOUIS: Southern Baptist leaders remained largely unapologetic last week after a former convention president described Muhammad as a "demon-possessed pedophile, drawing widely publicized criticism.

ST. LOUIS: Southern Baptist leaders remained largely unapologetic last week after a former convention president described Muhammad as a "demon-possessed pedophile, drawing widely publicized criticism.

Rev. Jerry Vines, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL, and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), made the comment a day before the annual gathering in St. Louis. He was denouncing religious pluralism in a sermon to other preachers.

While other leaders of the SBC noted that no one can officially speak for the 42,000 churches representing 16 million Baptists who sent "messengers to the convention, sentiment generally echoed new president Rev. Jack Graham's description of Vines' statements as "strong but "accurate."

Vines addressed the issue from his pulpit last Sunday, the same day Graham fielded questions at his own church in Plano, TX. Both then refused to publicly discuss the subject further.

Nashville, TN-based Baptist Press, the SBC's PR body, posted articles supporting Vines. Included were interviews with Emir and Ergun Caner, from whose book Unveiling Islam Vines said he drew information about the Islamic prophet. The Caners are former Muslims who now teach at Baptist seminaries. "If I have misread this information, I would be glad for Muslim scholars to explain their own documents to us all, Vines told his congregation.

Vines' initial statement was deemed hate speech by Muslims and condemned by Jewish groups, other Christian denominations, and moderate Baptists.

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, expressed disappointment that President Bush, who didn't respond to his organization's call for rebuke, spoke to the convention via satellite without mentioning the controversy.

Some Baptists welcomed the media hoopla. The Dallas Morning News quoted motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, a member of Graham's Prestonwood Baptist Church, as saying in prayer, "We're grateful ... because I'm convinced that this controversy will cause many people to explore what the Bible really says and what the Quran really says."

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