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Vines defends comments, notes love for Muslims

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Former Southern Baptist Convention President Jerry Vines reiterated his love for Muslims during a June 16 worship service at First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla., but stood by his description of Muslim prophet Muhammad as a “demon-possessed pedophile.”

Vines, in a statement delivered before his Jacksonville congregation, offered documentation, but not an apology, for the statements he made about Muhammad in a sermon delivered at the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference in St. Louis June 10.

“I have a 20-year record in Jacksonville as a pastor who loves people. I love Muslim people,” Vines said in a prepared statement. “I have found many of them to be kind, gentle and loving people. Many Muslims have come to our church to hear of the love, joy, peace and saving grace available to all in Jesus Christ.”

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.)

The statements were reported by national media and ignited a storm of criticism by not only Muslims, but also some members of the Christian 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.

Hundreds of email messages, mostly from pro-Muslims, were received at Baptist Press and SBC.net. The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, received 207 letters about the issue.

SBC President Jack Graham, pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, reminded his congregation that the SBC isn’t battling Islam.

“Our enemy is Satan, not any other religion,” Graham said, according to an Associated Press report. “Our issue in life is not Muhammad or any other religious leader, it’s Jesus Christ.”

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,” said Patterson, a former SBC president. “The first issue is the accuracy of Dr. Vines’ statement. The second is the motivation of his heart…. As to motive of the 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.”

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, number 64. Vines, in documenting his information, invited Muslim scholars “to explain their own documents to us all.”

Vines ended his three-paragraph statement by saying that in ministering to a church of more than 25,000 members he does not have time “to attend meetings, appear on TV programs or do extensive interviews. I have no plans to speak to this matter further.”

Vines said that he chose to read his statement from his pulpit because he felt that they should be “the first ones to hear what he had to say.”

“It is an absolute honor for me to be the pastor of a group of people who really believe that Jesus spoke the truth when he said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.'”
Compiled by Todd Starnes, with reporting from Carolyn Nichols.

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