From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians:Episcopal bishop defends Islam against Baptist statements

Date 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."

Statements 'horrific'

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 
interfaith groups."

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.

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