Yesterday I wrote how surprised I was that Fuller Theological Seminary, a conservative evangelical school, was sponsoring a new interfaith dialog program with Muslims. What I didn’t do was fully explain why that would surprise me. Evangelical Christians, particularly those aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention, have made some of the most mean spirited and hated-filled comments against our Muslim brothers and sisters since September 11th. Here are some examples from last year as reported by the Episcopal News Service:
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.
Other evangelicals have been just critical of Islam. Franklin Graham, the son of Bill Graham, is the head of Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical relief agency. Franklin Graham offered the prayer at George W. Bush’s inauguration. Since US troops entered Iraq his group, alongside Southern Baptists, has been active in Iraq trying to convert Muslims. This is what he had to say about Islam after 9/11.
On Sept. 17, Bush called Islam "a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world." But on Friday's "NBC Nightly News," Graham said: "We're not attacking Islam but Islam has attacked us. The God of Islam is not the same God. He's not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It's a different God, and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion."
These comments – and these are only a few examples – are what makes me surprised that Fuller Theological Seminary is undertaking such a good venture. I hope they are very successful in bringing evangelical Christians and Muslims together in a spirit of peace. The Southern Baptists and people like Franklin Graham might learn something from this. Maybe we all can.