This week's annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention was met with some unexpected fireworks after my friend Dr. Jerry Vines, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., declared that Muhammad was a "demon-possessed pedophile" and that Islam teaches the destruction of all non-Muslims.
If you want to raise the ire of the mainstream press and the swarm of politically-correct organizations in this nation, just criticize Islam (as Dr. Vines learned).
Dr. Vines' statements were made in reference to the new book, "Unveiling Islam: An Insider's Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs" (Kregel Publications). It is written by scholars Ergun and Emir Caner, brothers raised as Muslims who are today dynamic and outspoken Christians. Ergun is assistant professor of theology and church history at Criswell College in Dallas, while Emir is assistant professor of church history and Anabaptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.
Dr. Vines also quoted from the Hadith, a respected source for Islamic teaching among Muslim clerics and followers worldwide. Upon examination, the Hadith verifies that Muhammad did marry the nine-year-old daughter of a friend. The girl, named Aisha, became known as the "mother of believers."
"It's simply a matter of quoting [Islamic] sources," said Emir Caner. "If we are wrong in our understanding of the Islamic scriptures, we would be happy to be corrected."
The specific Hadith citation concerning Muhammad's relationship with the young girl is in volume 7, book 6, number 64 and 65, said Ergun Caner. (Both Emir and Ergun Caner were Sunni Muslims who became Christians in 1982.)
"The comments in question cannot be considered bigotry when they come from Islamic writings," Ergun said during a press conference hosted by Baptist Press in St. Louis.
A lengthy passage from the Hadith, volume 1, book 1, chapter 1, shows that Muhammad himself believed he was under demonic influence, but it notes that Muhammad's wife is the one who deemed his experience as "divine," said Ergun.
Concerning terrorism and Islamic jihad, Emir noted differential interpretations by Muslims themselves. Some, he said, see jihad as a "spiritual war," while others see it as meaning "physical," he said.
"Some Muslims want to allegorize their own scriptures because they don't want to defend jihad," Emir said. "But if you take the Koran at its word, or Muhammad at his word, then you'll find physical jihad." In fact, he noted, the highest level of Muslim heaven - which has 70 perpetual virgins on couches - is reserved for Muslims who "shed their blood" (Hadith 135). Islam's inclination toward violence, he added, also is reflected in the Koran: "Slay the enemy where you find him (Surah 9.92).
Dr. Vines was simply pointing out these distinctions. Since the media so often treats the Muslim religion with utter reverence - something we Baptists are unfamiliar with - he felt it was important that SBC members understand these distinctions. If those in the media were doing their jobs, Dr. Vines would have never felt it necessary to point out these disquieting elements of an enigmatic religion.
Ergun Caner observed an element of hypocrisy in the quest to portray Islam as a peaceful religion: "A so-called Christian who bombs an abortion clinic or shoots an abortionist and says God told him to do it does that act against the Bible," he said. "But the Muslim who commits acts of violence in jihad does so with the approval of Muhammad. ... When September 11 happened, we were all shocked. But where was the international outrage when jihad killed three million people (Christian people, I might add) in Sudan?"
A major element in the SBC - under the leadership of newly-elected president, Dr. Jack Graham - will be that of "Empowering Kingdom Growth." This major ministry initiative encourages SBC members to humbly seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. This means we will accelerate our efforts to take the Gospel to all people - including Muslims. We do not do this as a form of "hate," as some charge. We do this because we want others to know the peace that comes solely through a relationship with Jesus Christ - "For He Himself is our peace..." (Ephesians 2:14).
Among other actions, SBC messengers also called for churches and civil authorities to hold accountable clergy members guilty of sexual abuse. Another resolution calls for President Bush to place a "high priority" on enacting a ban on partial-birth abortion. And the SBC's North American Mission Board challenged members to consider their personal role in the "Go" part of the Great Commission by personally participating in mission trips during 2003.
The Southern Baptist Convention is a denomination of 16 million people who are serious about their calling to be representatives of Jesus Christ. While we do not receive the kind and gentle treatment that most other socially-acceptable denominations enjoy, we are committed to boldly speaking Truth in love to the peoples of this world.
And I am gratified to have a part in this great effort.