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Reaction mounts to NBC News over segment on pastor’s view of Muhammad

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Two key leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention have added their concerns about NBC News/Tom Brokaw’s depiction of a former SBC president as “Preaching hate.”

SBC President Jack Graham and SBC Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman issued statements Feb. 27 concerning an “NBC Nightly News” segment targeting Florida pastor Jerry Vines, a former SBC president who described Islam’s prophet Muhammad as a pedophile in a widely publicized sermon last summer.

The statements by Graham and Chapman joined concerns voiced by Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., voicing an array of concerns about the NBC segment.

Brokaw, in opening the NBC news broadcast Feb. 25 highlighted the segment on Vines as one of the evening’s featured reports. With an image of Vines displayed in the background, Brokaw called the segment: “Preaching hate. When words from the pulpit sound like words of war. American versus American.”

The segment, aired in the waning moments of the broadcast, included two sentences from Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church, concerning his comments about Muhammad: “These statements were correct. I have not had any rebuttal from those statements, from a scholarly point of view.” And in one of two sentences spoken from the pulpit, Vines is shown saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, all religions are not equally true, all religions are not [applause breaks into the remainder of the sentence]….”

Brief interviews with six individuals in opposition to Vines’ statements were aired in the segment. No one in support of Vines was shown.

Those voicing opposition to Vines’ statements were Greg Warner, executive editor of Associated Baptist Press, a part of a breakaway movement opposed to the conservative resurgence in the SBC; two fellow members of Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville; an official with the Interfaith Council of Jacksonville; a local Muslim woman and an unidentified man. The interfaith representative used the term “preaching hate” in reference to Vines, while one of the church members warned of the possibility of “a religious war.”

The targeting of Vines stems from his declaration June 16, 2002, during the 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.

Graham, in his statement to Baptist Press, noted:

“Once again the secular press is unable to understand the uniqueness of the Christian faith and message, and therefore chose to attack the messenger. The NBC piece was not only poor journalism but a disingenuous attempt to slander one of our finest [SBC] pulpiteers and pastors.

“The message all Bible-believing Christians share is one which declares that Jesus is the only hope of the entire world.

“There are many religions but only one Savior. In a day when the all-religions-are-equal myth is sweeping the world, Southern Baptists should be grateful for the clear proclamation of the gospel from bold witnesses like Dr. Jerry Vines. Now is the time for compassionate Christians to fearlessly proclaim salvation in Christ and Christ alone.

“After the NBC segment, I remembered the words of Jesus, ‘Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you'” (Matthew 5:11-12, ESV).

Graham is pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano.

Chapman, in his statement to Baptist Press, noted:

“Dr. Jerry Vines is recognized by all who know him to be one of Southern Baptists’ most effective and compassionate pastors. That Tom Brokaw and NBC News would knowingly label him and other Christians as motivated by hate makes clear that their intent was not to provide news, but to air an anti-Christian message. The elite who wish to manage the politically correct agenda apparently regard Christians as insensitive people, who must be demonized.

“Television can be a very powerful medium for affecting the thinking and attitudes of great numbers of people. NBC News attempted to use that medium to redefine Christianity as an expression of hate by tapping into an emotionalism that trumps reason. No person of good will wants to be seen as being for hate — that is what makes this labeling so ferocious. This thinly disguised method for provoking animosity toward Christians who dare to speak out, and against biblical Christianity, seems to have as its goal the outlawing of any opinions considered politically incorrect by Mr. Brokaw.

“Unfortunately, many people who do not know Dr. Vines or Southern Baptists will make judgments about him, and us, based on falsehood and innuendo. Thankfully, there are many people who have caught on to the bias of some in the news media and will discount it as merely more of the same old, tired tactics. When the public learns the truth behind this noble-sounding facade of ‘fighting hate,’ they will recognize that the goal is to silence Christian spokesmen, pastors of conviction; indeed, anyone who dares to think differently than the would-be thought managers. And I am praying that one by one, people across this great land of ours will become more immune to the falsehoods.”

Vines, in comments to the Florida Baptist Witness Feb. 26, stated 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.

“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).”

Vines also inquired: “… 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? 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?”

Warner, in a Feb. 27 interview with the Florida Baptist Witness, said he had reviewed the NBC segment and “I would agree that the NBC piece is handled in a sloppy way on a very sensitive topic. I can’t defend their editing of it because I think it has created some misunderstandings, both of Dr. Vines’ position and of my church’s beliefs. I felt the context of the conversation with our church members [at the Hendricks Avenue congregation] was not of specifically the now-famous quote of Jerry Vines [regarding Muhammad]. It was the broader scope of Christian treatment of Muslims.”

Warner continued by noting, “… we certainly weren’t responding to the issue of the exclusivity of the gospel. That was not the context. … I do believe that there’s salvation only in Christ. … I believe and think most of our church members believe in the exclusivity of the gospel. We don’t attempt to make that the first thing that Muslims hear from us. And there are better ways in loving Muslims into the Kingdom. But I don’t think that any of us in my church downplay the claims of Christ or his offer of salvation to everyone.”
See yesterday’s BP story: http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=15315.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: NBC VILIFIES SBC’S VINES.