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Statement by Dr. Bob Edgar, NCC General Secretary,
On Florida Pastor Jerry Vines' Attack on the Muslim Faith

June 19, 2002

The recent attack on the Muslim faith and its founder Mohammed by Florida pastor Jerry Vines, a prominent Southern Baptist leader, demands a response by other Christians. He called Mohammed a "demon-possessed pedophile" and warned that following the way of Islam could "turn you into a terrorist."

Already many Southern Baptists, along with American Baptists and others, have publicly voiced their dismay at his divisive language, emphasizing that he does not speak for them. They note with sadness that Vines' remarks may well generate anger and fear among many Muslims, and move some among us to disrespect and suspicion of Muslims, if not to acts of hate against them.

Hostility and name-calling do not represent the spirit of Jesus, who always showed respect for others and treated them with grace and dignity. Indeed, Jesus was far kinder to those who disagreed with his views -- even those whom his society held in contempt -- than with the self-righteous within his own religious community.

Christians who attack, insult or belittle the beliefs of any other faith miss the very heart of the Gospel. The Bible shows us that Jesus dealt gently and generously with those outside his faith -- the Samaritan woman, the tax collector, the wealthy young ruler, the Roman centurion. The apostles carried on that spirit in their dealings with the secular and religious principalities of the first century, showing respect for the searching polytheists of Athens, and even for the pagan Romans who jailed and persecuted them.

When overzealous Christians characterize Islam only as a "bloody" religion, they also imply that there were no times when the Christian faith has been misused to advance values far from the heart and will of Christ. Yet history reminds us of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the trafficking in human slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, and other sinful activities of Christians who lost their way and betrayed the teachings of their faith.

The National Council of Churches is encouraging churches all across the nation to open their doors in friendship and hospitality to Muslims as a spiritual response to the anniversary of the tragic events of last September -- events which thousands of American Muslims have denounced as a perversion of their faith. When we demonstrate our concern for our Muslim neighbors, we open our hearts to the Gospel and accept Jesus' call to love our neighbors, rather than repel them with ridicule and condemnation, as this Florida pastor has done.

The God of Abraham, Rebecca, Joseph, Ruth and David -- most fully revealed in the ministry of Jesus Christ and his radical generosity of spirit -- finds us all still in need of many lessons about loving one another, especially when claiming to speak in the authority of God's name.

Bob Edgar, General Secretary, National Council of Churches

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