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NBC targets Southern Baptist pastor about 2002 remarks on Islam’s Muhammad

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A Feb. 25 “NBC Nightly News” broadcast portrayed Southern Baptist leader Jerry Vines as “preaching hate” against Muslims while failing to include Vines’ endorsement of religious freedom for all persons made in his interview with NBC.

Anchor Tom Brokaw, at the outset of the program, touted an upcoming segment focusing on Jerry Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., with three clipped sentences: “Preaching hate. When words from the pulpit sound like words of war. American versus American.”

The targeting of Vines, a former Southern Baptist Convention president, stems from Vines’ declaration during the 2002 SBC Pastors’ Conference in St. Louis that the Muslim prophet Muhammad was a “demon-possessed pedophile” for having married one of his wives at age 6 and consummating the union when she was 9. Vines later cited Islamic writings known as the Hadith as the source of his statement.

Brokaw, introducing the segment in the waning moments of the broadcast, stated, “Tonight we begin an occasional series visiting American cities and towns as the United States moves closer to war. In the days right after 9/11, understandably, there was a great deal of talk in this country about not blaming the attacks on Islam itself, or Muslims generally. President Bush visited a mosque and talked about the need for tolerance. Apparently, that message didn’t reach a powerful Baptist preacher in northern Florida. NBC’s Bob Faw tonight on the Christian fault lines in Jacksonville.”

Because of a “bold” message from First Baptist, Jacksonville, Faw said, “… some true believers here are terrified. … Jacksonville’s Muslims, devout and thoughtful, complain the atmosphere is being poisoned.” Faw noted that one Muslim woman no longer lets her children wear Muslim-looking garb in public. The woman states that Vines’ preaching “incites an unrest; it incites an us-against-them type of mentality.”

The NBC segment accorded Vines only two sentences: “These statements were correct,” Vines is shown saying. “I have not had any rebuttal from those statements, from a scholarly point of view.”

And two brief clips of Vines preaching were shown. “Oh, preach, ladies and gentlemen; preach, preacher; preach the Word,” Vines was saying in the first clip; in the second: “Ladies and gentlemen, all religions are not equally true, all religions are not [applause breaks into the remainder of the sentence]….”

In a Feb. 26 release to the Florida Baptist Witness, Vines challenged the NBC news segment, stating in part:

“I have been preaching the loving gospel of Jesus Christ for 49 years. I challenge NBC Nightly News, or anyone, to find one single sentence, word or syllable of hate in any message I have delivered during those years,” Vines said.

“It is certainly not hate to tell the truth about any religion based upon its own authoritative documents. It is certainly not hate to say that all religions are not the same, nor equally true (any elementary school child of average intelligence knows that). It is not hate to tell people that Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, the life, no man comes to the Father but by me’ (John 14:6).”

“… Is it fair that they did not use a single line in which I affirmed my belief in religious freedom, my love for people of all faiths and my great desire that people might come to know salvation which is available alone through Jesus Christ?” Vines asked. “Is it balanced that not one single member of my congregation (who have listened to me preach for over 20 years now) was given a chance to say whether or not I preach hate?”

Vines also stated, “It is my understanding that good journalism seeks to be fair and balanced. NBC Nightly News was neither. The story was so poorly done, I am embarrassed for them.”

No one supportive of Vines appeared on the NBC segment, while six critics of Vines were quoted, including Greg Warner, executive editor of Associated Baptist Press, a part of a breakaway movement opposed to the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Warner, identified only as a member of Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church, stated: “I think we’ve got an obligation as Christians to say, ‘You know, there’s another voice to be heard here.'”

Two other Hendricks Avenue members were quoted. Mary Wynn: “When I hear that [stance by Vines], it really does cut to my soul as a Baptist.” Berrylin Houston: “My head tells me that if we’re not careful this will escalate into a religious war.”

In addition to the Muslim woman and brief comments from an unidentified man, Jose Rosa of the Interfaith Council of Jacksonville was quoted three times: “My worry is great,” and later, “They’re preaching hate. They’re trying to get people who don’t know to hate,” and at the end of the segment, “I think it will come to the point of violence. If it gets really bad around the world, the people will use that to go after Muslims.”

Faw, the NBC correspondent, noted that Vines’ church-going opponents “concede the climate is now so inflamed, a war with Muslim Iraq will only make things worse.”

Meanwhile, Marvin Olasky, professor of journalism at the University of Texas and editor of the national weekly World magazine, noted in comments provided to Baptist Press after the NBC broadcast:

“Two questions are prominent here.

“First, is it proper for Christian ministers to criticize Islam? When NBC suggests that it’s not, NBC is betraying three centuries of press effort in America to advance opportunities for free debate and an open exchange of views. NBC should not try to stifle debate, as if it were the Saudi Arabian Broadcasting Company.

“Second, should Jerry Vines (basing his view on Muslim Hadith, revered stories of Muhammad’s life, that appear to depict him having sex with a 9-year-old) have described Muhammad as a ‘pedophile’? Rev. Vines said, ‘I have not had any rebuttal from those statements, from a scholarly point of view.’ I received such a rebuttal in an email exchange with one Muslim scholar who acknowledged that the Hadith collections were unreliable concerning the Muhammad/9-year-old issue. If the Hadith collections are not trustworthy, Muslim leaders should say so publicly, and pastors should respect that honest admission and move on to other aspects of the Muslim-Christian debate. Of course, Muslim leaders might be unwilling to admit that, because if the Hadith are unreliable on this question, might they be unreliable in many other regards as well?”

Reaction among Southern Baptist leaders was strong:

— Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, described the segment as a “despicable example of yellow journalism” and “irresponsible in the extreme” which “contributes substantially to the climate for violence they purport to fear.”

Land took particular issue with NBC’s characterization of Christians as hateful and warlike. He noted that Muslim fundamentalists carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks, are responsible for the ongoing suicide bombings in Israel, and have called for jihad, or holy war; however, Baptists — who are feeding, clothing and housing the very people who call Baptists enemies — are decried as Christian fundamentalists (in the same vein as Muslim fundamentalists) for holding that Jesus is the only way to heaven.

“We decry coercion in matters of faith,” Land added in part, asking, “Can the same be said of any society where Islam holds sway in the world? To even quote someone delusional enough to say that there could be ‘religious war’ in America is the height of journalistic irresponsibility. NBC ought to be ashamed of such unprofessional reporting.”

— R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., stated in part that NBC Nightly News is out of touch with Christians in America:

“The segment was an exercise in journalistic distortion that demonstrated the lengths to which some in the media will go to belittle and ridicule the faith held by millions of Americans. NBC owes the Christian gospel — and Dr. Jerry Vines — an apology.”

Mohler also noted, “Telling persons that they are lost and in desperate need of the Savior is not hatred, but the most loving message any human could speak to another.

Commenting on the criticisms by fellow Baptists in the segment, Mohler added, “Those who would criticize [Vines] should be honest enough to stand before their own churches and the watching world and tell us what they really believe about the gospel.

“… Is Jesus the only Savior? Should we pray that Muslims would come to faith in Christ? Without faith in Christ, is there any hope of salvation?

“… The universalists, pluralists and inclusivists are embarrassed by the preaching of the gospel. Others, who say that they believe in that Jesus is the only Savior, hide in fear behind a cloak of social respectability and hope that no one ever presses them on the question. Some of these suggest that we should be silent on this issue, lest we offend. Tell that to Peter and John as they stood before the Sanhedrin with their lives on the line and declared that ‘there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12).”

Warner, responding to Mohler in an interview with the Florida Baptist Witness, stated: “They didn’t consult us about the direction of the story and we didn’t have any influence about how they used our quotes. They asked us what we thought about the relationship between Muslims and Christians in the city of Jacksonville and I think our members fairly represented a valid Christian point of view. It had nothing to do with the exclusivity of the gospel, it had to do with respect for fellow human beings.”
Michael Foust, James A. Smith, Sr. and Joni B. Hannigan contributed to this article. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: NBC TARGETS SBC PASTOR.