WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush disagrees with recent comments made by former Southern Baptist Convention President Jerry Vines about Islam and its founder, the White House indicated June 20.
Presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters Bush “definitely disagrees with” Vines’ statements, but it was unclear from the White House transcript of the briefing what the president’s differences with the Southern Baptist pastor included. Baptist Press called the White House seeking clarification, but the call was not returned in time for this article.
The White House response to a reporter’s question on the subject came after a week and a half of both criticism and defense of Vines. In his sermon at the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference June 10, the pastor of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla., described Muhammad as a “demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives, and his last one was a 9-year-old girl.”
Vines said Islam “is not just as good as Christianity.” He also said Allah “is not Jehovah either. Jehovah’s not going to turn you into a terrorist that’ll try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people.”
Islamic organizations quickly denounced the statements as “bigoted” and “hateful.” Some religious organizations, including the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and American Baptist Churches, expressed regret about Vines’ comments. Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, called on Bush to repudiate the comments.
Meanwhile, numerous Southern Baptist leaders and academics defended both Vines’ comments and motive. Some pointed out the source of Vines’ comments about a 9-year-old wife is an Islamic document, the Hadith. Vines stood by his comments in a statement read to his church June 16 and asked Muslim scholars “to explain their documents to us all.”
When a reporter asked four days later whether Bush agreed with Vines’ comments, Fleischer said the president had called Islam on numerous occasions “a religion of peace. And that’s what the president believes.”
The reporter pressed Fleischer, who eventually said, “It’s something the president definitely disagrees with. The president said that Islam is a religion of peace.”
Bush spoke via satellite to messengers at the SBC’s annual meeting the morning after Vines’ comments and before they had become well known. The president, who has frequently shared his Christian testimony, told the messengers in St. Louis that Southern Baptists and he share “common commitments.” He saluted Baptists as “among the earliest champions of religious tolerance and freedom.”
The portion of the briefing transcript, as provided on the White House’s website (www.whitehouse.gov), in which a reporter asked about the president’s response to Vines’ comments, follows:
Questioner: “The former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Reverend Jerry Vines, recently denounced Islam as a religion “founded by a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives,” and he went on to say that the God that Muslims worship is not the same as the God that Christians worship. Does the president agree with those statements?”
Fleischer: “You’ve heard, Ken, the president say on numerous times that Islam is a religion of peace. And that’s what the president believes.”
Questioner: “This was in the Southern Baptist Convention, an organization the president recently praised for its tolerance. And yet several Baptist leaders have come to Reverend Vines’ defense. Does the president have anything to say — ”
Flesicher: “Ken, I think you can go to any organization in this country, of any size, and find one individual or two individuals who will say something that is not representative of the organization.”
Questioner: “That’s a bigoted thing to say, though, isn’t it?”
Fleischer: “What he said?”
Fleischer: “It’s something the president definitely disagrees with. The president said that Islam is a religion of peace. But the president — I’m not going to put the president in between everybody in this country who would say something that the president would strongly disagree with, and bring it to the White House podium. There are many people in many organizations who have said things that I don’t put the president in between.”
Vines served two terms as the SBC’s president from 1988-90.
Jack Graham, the Southern Baptist Convention’s newly elected president, did not issue a response June 21 to Fleishcer’s exchange.
Rep. Zach Wamp, R.-Tenn., a member of Red Bank Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., told Baptist Press he doesn’t believe there is a division or conflict between the president and the Southern Baptist Convention.
“The president of the United States is not a religious leader,” Wamp said. “He is a leader of all Americans, regardless of their religious beliefs. And pastors are not charged with foreign policy for our nation. There is a real difference here and I don’t think it’s a division or conflict between the two. But they have separate roles. The respective parties are all just doing their jobs to the best of their abilities.”
Wamp said Bush has demonstrated sound foreign policy and has a “real heart for peace.”
“Peace requires a very special touch by our president,” he said. “He’s trying to bring that about.
“I am confident that President Bush is in touch with Almighty God,” Wamp added. “It gives me great encouragement as a believer myself that our president is in touch with Almighty God.”
Todd Starnes contributed the paragraphs about Rep. Wamp’s comments.