LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–A recent New York Times column criticizing Franklin Graham and Jerry Vines drew a letter of response by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. July 15.
Mohler’s letter to the editor came in response to a column July 9 by The Times’ Nicholas D. Kristof.
Kristof’s column, under the headline “Bigotry in Islam – and Here,” argued that “[I]t’s a cheap shot for us to scold Arabs for acquiescing in religious hatred unless we try vigorously to uproot our own religious bigotry.”
That bigotry, Kristof argued, was reflected in comments by Graham and Vines. Kristof quoted Graham as saying of Islam, “I believe it’s a very evil and wicked religion.” He then referenced Vines’ comments that Muhammad was a “demon-possessed pedophile.” Kristof also condemned comments by conservatives Paul Weyrich and William Lind and columnist Ann Coulter, saying that they were all forms of “hate speech.”
In his letter Mohler asserted that Graham and Vines are anything but bigots.
“Nicholas D. Kristof raises a host of genuinely important issues in ‘Bigotry in Islam – and Here,’ but they are issues that cannot be simply categorized under the explosive term ‘hate speech,'” Mohler wrote.
“The Revs. Franklin Graham and Jerry Vines are anything but religious bigots. I know both of these men, and I know that their greatest concern is to see all people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Muslims around the world may disagree, but they also understand.”
Kristof said that Islam has flaws, including the repression of women, the spawning of terrorism, the propensity for war and the lack of democracy. But he then asked, “If Islam were really just the caricature that it is often reduced to, then how would it be so appealing as to become the world’s fastest growing religion?”
Kristof claimed that Islam is growing because it has “a profound egalitarianism and a lack of hierarchy that confer dignity and self-respect among believers; greater hospitality than in other societies; an institutionalized system of charity, zakat, to provide for the poor.”
But Mohler responded by arguing that any comparison between Christianity and Islam must begin with their core beliefs.
“In the end, the great world religions stand or fall on the validity of their truth claims,” Mohler wrote. “This is especially the case with Christianity and Islam, both of which stake their case on a claim of divine revelation. Furthermore, both faiths make a universal claim to truth and seek to convert nonbelievers.
“An Islam that settles for religious pluralism is not authentic Islam, and Christianity without zeal for conversion is not true Christianity.”