NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptist Convention leaders, ranging from pastors to seminary presidents, continued to voice support of Jerry Vines in the wake of a national media uproar over statements Vines made regarding the Muslim prophet Muhammad at the SBC Pastors’ Conference.
Vines, a former SBC president and pastor of the First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla., reiterated his love for Muslims during a June 16 worship service at the church but stood by his description of Muslim prophet Muhammad as a “demon-possessed pedophile.”
Vines’ Pastors’ Conference sermon, which denounced religious pluralism, contained the statement that Muhammad was “a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives, and his last one was a 9-year-old girl.” (Muhammad married the girl at age 6 and consummated the union at age 9, according to a book by two scholars later cited by Vines.)
Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee strongly affirmed Vines’ character and his remarks about Muhammad.
“Dr. Jerry Vines is known universally to be one of Southern Baptists’ finest pulpiteers and most effective and compassionate pastors,” Chapman told Baptist Press. “Those who know him well also acknowledge him as one of our most studious and careful pastor-scholars. His remarks about Muhammad’s history and character would have been made only after thorough reflection on the Islamic sources. Those who have attacked him and his statements have yet to answer that documentation. The evidence is overwhelming and consistent — leading to only one conclusion: Dr. Vines is right in his assertions.
“Dr. Vines’ courage and candor are grounded in his integrity as a man of God, and we fully support his leadership among Southern Baptists and the evangelical community,” Chapman added.
Vines’ statements were reported by national media and ignited a storm of criticism by not only Muslims, but also some members of the religious community. The Council on American-Islamic Relations was outraged by Vines’ comments and demanded an apology. Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way Foundation, called on President Bush to repudiate the statements.
Phil Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., and former director of the North American Mission Board’s interfaith witness team, told Baptist Press June 18, “I have no hesitation to believe that Jerry Vines has the most sincere and Christlike motivations here. I know that he loves lost people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
“In that light, 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that love rejoices in the truth,” Roberts said, describing Vines’ motivation as “an attempt to speak the truth in love, believing that the truth will set people free. Knowing the truth about a religious leader, people can draw the right conclusion about whether they want to belong to that religion or extricate themselves from it.”
The “plain facts” from Islamic sources, Roberts said, are that Muhammad was betrothed to his third wife when she was 6 years of age, and the marriage was consummated at 9, “well before adolescence.”
People might say it was a common practice in Muhammad’s time, Roberts said, noting, however, “If he’s a true prophet of God, we would expect more of him, that he would have transcended the morality of his time. He should have set new standards for what godly marriage is all about,” rather than having “fallen to the low standards of his day.”
Muslims don’t expect Muhammad to be sinless, Roberts said, citing passages in the Koran in which God directs Muhammad to ask forgiveness for his sins, in such passages as Surah 40:55 and 41:19.
Roberts observed, “You have the choice of Christianity, where Jesus claims sinlessness, and his own followers said he was sinless. He himself said, ‘I do always those things which please the Father.’ And then you have Muhammad who wrote a book that allows for polygamy, for a husband to beat his wife, for a husband to divorce his wife but not her to divorce him, and in which God commands him to ask for forgiveness.
“You have two very clear choices between the kind of religious leader to follow and to commit your life to their teachings and example,” Roberts said.
Concerning the question of Muhammad being demon-possessed, Roberts recounted that Muhammad himself said he was being attacked by evil spirits, or “jinn,” but his first wife persuaded him to ignore the concern.
“The end result of it was that he went ahead and wrote under the inspiration of these spirits, and thus we have the Koran,” Roberts continued. “By Muhammad’s own testimony, he felt there was something supernatural at work and initially had the impression that it was an evil force in his own life.
“As Christians we have to draw the conclusion that the Koran is a book that denies the deity of Christ, the crucifixion and the resurrection. Our conclusion has to be that the Koran reflects the spirit of anti-Christ and presents a gospel that is no gospel at all. It was not the fruit of God’s inspiration,” Roberts said. “While not every Christian might say that Muhammad was demon-possessed, they would say that the production of the Koran was not at all God’s work. It was indeed, as far as his teachings on the gospel and other moral concerns, the result of an evil and diabolical influence.”
In his June 16 comments, Vines said that his information about Muhammad had come from a book by two Baptist professors and former Muslims, Ergun and Emir Caner, “Unveiling Islam.” The facts of Muhammad’s life cited by Vines are from the Koran and Hadith, specifically Surah 53; Hadith volume 7, book 62, numbers 64-65. Vines, in documenting his information, invited Muslim scholars “to explain their own documents to us all.”
In a June 18 interview with Baptist Press, Ergun Caner, a professor at Criswell College in Dallas, said he thanks God for what Vines said.
“Dr. Vines brought to the American forefront something the world of Islam has known for centuries,” Caner said. “It’s controversial because it has entered the American philosophical arena. For that reason, I thank God for what Dr. Vines said.”
Would Caner have handled the comments differently? “I’m not going to question what God gives Jerry Vines to say,” he said. “I am the last man to ever redact Jerry Vines’ sermon style. Criswell College has the Jerry Vines Institute for Expository Preaching. He is 20 times more brilliant than I. I find it funny people would think I would play Monday morning quarterback.”
Caner noted that everything Vines said “has been known in Islam for 1,300 years.”
“It is really a Catch-22 for Muslims,” Caner said. “If they affirm their historical citations, they incur the wrath of American media.”
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson also weighed in on the issue, voicing his support for Vines.
“There are two issues here and not just one,” Patterson said. “The first issue is the accuracy of Dr. Vines’ statement. The second is the motivation of his heart. Since the last issue is one that only God can see, suspension of judgment is the only appropriate response for even the most skeptical. As to the accuracy of Vine’s statement, the Islamic records confirm his judgment. Do people not need to be aware of the personal life of one who claimed prophetic inspiration? Mere humans in all faiths have disappointed their followers. This is why Jesus is remarkable. When Jesus asked, ‘which of you convicts me of sin?’ none responded. As to motive of heart, in the absence of anyone’s ability to read the heart of another, the splendid exhibition of love toward Muslims across 40-plus years of Vines’ ministry ought to speak volumes more than accusations of ‘hatred’ on the part of Vines’ critics.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., also voiced his support for Vines and defended the SBC pastor in a commentary in the Jacksonville Florida Times-Union.
“The controversy surrounding Dr. Jerry Vines is further evidence of our cultural confusion,” Mohler told Baptist Press June 18. “Too many Americans think that compassion and tolerance require us to hide our deepest convictions. Dr. Jerry Vines is a man of genuine compassion. His love for all persons drives him to tell them the truth; to warn sinners of hell; and to point all persons to Christ. Jerry Vines is an honest man in dishonest times.”
Mohler also praised the congregation of Vines’ church and their commitment to evangelism.
“The great First Baptist Church of Jacksonville is a testimony and monument to the largeness of Dr. Vines’ heart and the dedication of his ministry,” Mohler said. “All persons — including all Muslims — can be assured that they will be confronted by the claims of Christ as they encounter this church, its members and its pastor.”
James Merritt, the immediate past president of the SBC, called Vines one of his dearest friends in a June 18 commentary in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“I know Vines as a dear friend, a godly pastor, and a genuine Christian who desires to see all people come to a knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ and place their faith in him,” Merritt wrote. “It is important to note that he certainly did not question the rights of Muslims to believe what they believe, nor would he ever by force coerce anyone else to become a Christian. He simply spoke what he felt was the truth in love.”
Merritt said the real substance of the controversy is not whether Vines was accurate in what he said, or whether he identified his sources. The real problem, he noted, is that he would make such a statement in the day and age in which we live.
“One cannot understand his comments about Muhammad unless they understand the all-important ‘context’ of the statement,” Merritt said. “Vines was reminding preachers of their responsibility to preach that salvation comes through Jesus Christ and only through Jesus Christ. It was also in the context of emphasizing that, unlike Muhammad or any other human being who has ever lived, Jesus Christ was totally sinless, the divine Son of God, who — contrary to the teachings of Islam — did indeed literally die on a cross, was indeed literally raised from the dead, and is indeed the only way that a person can have a true relationship with God.”
Art Toalston contributed to this article.