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SBC DIGEST: Crash destroys N.Y. church sanctuary; Jeffress defends criticism of Islam

NORTH SYRACUSE, N.Y. (BP)–The sanctuary of Bellewood Baptist Church in North Syracuse, N.Y., was destroyed by fire Oct. 17 when a man crashed his pickup truck into the building just before 5 a.m.

Florindo A. Pascarella, 24, of Mattydale, N.Y., crashed through a street sign, two lawns and plowed into the church, the Post-Standard newspaper reported. When his vehicle burst into flames, Pascarella was pulled from the burning vehicle by a bystander. Pascarella then tried to escape in another vehicle but was caught by police. He was charged with driving with a suspended license, driving with a suspended registration, having no insurance and leaving the scene of an accident, the newspaper reported.

The congregation held worship on the church lawn later that morning.

“We are heartbroken,” church member Betty Taylor told a television reporter. “So many people worked so hard to give this money and time so we could have a new building.”

“It’s a reminder that the church is the people, not the building,” added church member Glenn Iglehart. “We’re sad the building has suffered some damage, but the people haven’t.”

Pastor Matt Hallenbeck told a reporter: “It’s an inconvenience. That’s all it is…. We know this isn’t going to stop us. We know we’re going to do what God calls us to do, whether we have a building at this time or not.”

Bellewood Baptist Church is on the Web at www.bellewoodchurch.com.

JEFFRESS DEFENDS CRITICISM OF ISLAM — A Dallas Morning News columnist failed to report the full story when he criticized Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, of being “uninformed, un-Christian or un-American,” Jeffress told his congregation.

The Sept. 5 column by Steve Blow took Jeffress to task for saying the teachings of Islam are used to justify violence, oppression of women and marriage of very young girls. Blow quoted a Southern Methodist University professor as saying there was no evidence to support, in Blow’s words, Jeffress’ “outrageous accusation that Islam promotes pedophilia and Muslim men around the world engage in it.”

“The good news is Steve did not accuse me of beating my wife — not yet anyway,” Jeffress told his congregation later that morning in response to the column. “Whether I am un-Christian or un-American is something you and [Blow’s] readers have to decide for yourself, but uninformed I am not.”

Jeffress said he thought it ironic that a news article published the day before Blow’s column reported a Muslim cleric’s pronouncing a death sentence on a Dutch politician for saying Islam is a violent religion. Jeffress also read aloud a CBS News article about Muslim politicians in Yemen condemning as “un-Islamic” a proposal to ban the marriage of girls under 17 years old. The article noted a 12-year-old died after struggling for three days in labor to give birth, Jeffress said. It also reported that more than 25 percent of the country’s females marry before age 15.

Blow’s column criticized Jeffress for not being able to document the claim about child marriage during an interview but failed to report that Jeffress provided documentation later, the pastor said.

“Muslim men around the world use Muhammad [who himself took a 9-year-old as a bride] as justification for taking child brides,” Jeffress said. “That’s a matter of historical record.”

“There is something in the religion [of Islam] itself that incites violence around the world, that causes the oppression of women, that is used by some to legitimize marriage to children,” Jeffress said. “But the worst thing about Islam is that it is a deception that leads people from the true God to an eternity in hell…. Islam is a false religion built upon a false book that was written by a false prophet.”

A video of Jeffress’ full statement can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4dHHbO7Slw.

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