From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Episcopalians:Episcopal bishop defends Islam against Baptist statements
Sat, 15 Jun 2002 19:37:32 -0400
June 15, 2002
Episcopalians:Episcopal bishop defends Islam against Baptist
by Robert Brown
(ENS) Missouri Episcopal bishop George Wayne Smith led an
interfaith defense of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed during a
news conference June 12, called in response to an attack on
Muslims by leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
The Baptists were holding their national meeting in St. Louis
June 7-12 when the former president of the SBC told a conference
of pastors that "Islam is not just as good as Christianity."
The Rev. Jerry Vines, now a pastor in Jacksonville, Florida,
went on to call Mohammed "a demon-possessed pedophile" in
reference to the fact that the prophet's 12th wife was nine
years old when they were betrothed. He also said that Allah was
not Jehovah, linking Allah to terrorists. Vines blamed religious
pluralism for the country's woes.
The remarks were defended the next day by the Rev. Jack
Graham, the newly elected president of the SBC.
The remarks prompted Smith, a former Southern Baptist, to
call for the news conference and to invite members of the
Interfaith Partnership of Metropolitan St. Louis. He was joined
at the conference by 16 religious leaders, including
Protestants, Roman Catholics, Muslims, and Jews. Among the
Protestants was a pastor of a church aligned with the SBC.
Break down barriers
Standing before the altar in Christ Church Cathedral, Smith
spoke on behalf of the Interfaith Partnership in condemning the
statements and expressing solidarity with "our Muslim brothers
and sisters." He then spoke as Bishop of Missouri, saying, "The
statement violates our understanding of the Christian faith,
which proclaims a God who calls us to love one another and to
break down the barriers that separate us."
Smith said the lessons of the Holocaust taught Western
society that it could not let bigotry go unanswered and that
people of faith should speak out against it.
The Rev. Dr. Warren Crews, the diocese's ecumenical officer
and president of the Interfaith Partnership, said he did not
want the messengers (delegates) to the Baptist meeting to go
away from St. Louis thinking that such bigotry was tolerated
here. His sentiments were echoed by a Southern Baptist pastor.
"If I want to build up Christianity, I don't want to tear
down other expressions of religious belief," said the Rev. Scott
Shavers, pastor of Third Baptist Church in St. Louis.
Thanks from Muslims
Lari Grubbs, a Disciples of Christ minister and chair of the
partnership, reminded those listening that the religious
pluralism the Baptists blame for the country's ills made it
possible for Baptists to flourish in the U.S.
Bataya Abramson-Goldstein, associate executive director for
Jewish Community Relations in St. Louis, spoke of the need for
"people of good will to speak out." The Rev. Monsignor Richard
Stitka, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St.
Louis, cited the Second Vatican Council's reaffirmation that
Allah is the same God worshipped by Christians and pointed to
Islam's reverence for Jesus and Mary his mother. The Rev. Dr.
Martin Rafanan, executive director of the National Conference
for Community & Justice, called the remarks by Vines
Dr. Ghazala Hayat, her head covered by a scarf and her voice
breaking, told how she was very hurt by the remarks she heard
from the Baptists, "but I am very moved by the words I hear
today." Hayat is vice president of the partnership and past
chair of the St. Louis Islamic Foundation. Dr. Waheed Rana, a
Muslim cleric in St. Louis, also thanked the partnership "from
the bottom of my heart."
The Rev. John Danforth, retired priest of the Diocese and
director of St. Louis 2004, a civic pride organization, quoted
from the Book of Common Prayer, asking God "to fashion one
united people from the multitudes." Danforth, a former U.S.
Senator, later told reporters that the remarks by the Baptists
had not tarnished fellow Republican George W. Bush. Bush had
earlier in the week spoke to the Baptist meeting via satellite
on a giant screen television and praised the denomination as an
"example of democracy."
Questions from at least one of the reporters in the audience,
representing a Baptist publication, prompted Smith and others to
explain the historical and cultural context of Mohammed's
betrothal to a young girl. "To equate Mohammed's marriage with
pedophilia is horrific," said Smith, repeating earlier
statements by Hayat that the marriage was not consummated until
the girl was of age. He added that betrothals of children were
common in Mohammed's day as a way to unite families. He
explained that such customs are not practiced by Muslims today.
Smith, who was baptized in a Southern Baptist congregation as
an adolescent and later converted to the Episcopal Church while
a student at Baylor University, a Baptist college in Waco,
Texas, joined Hayat in asking for a retraction from Vines and
Baptist President Jack Graham. Later that night, a spokesperson
from the Southern Baptist Convention told a reporter that the
convention was "not in the habit of taking advice from
On June 14, Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis hosted a
midday interfaith prayer vigil. The Very Rev. Ronald
Clingenpeel, dean of the Cathedral, said it was a way to "wage
reconciliation" in the wake of the week's events.
--Robert Brown is Communications Director for the Episcopal
Diocese of Missouri.
Browse month . . .
Browse month (sort by Source) . . .
Advanced Search & Browse . . .