Neas calls on Bush to Repudiate Divisive Comments
On June 11, President George W. Bush addressed the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) via satellite. While Bush lauded the SBC for upholding the ideals of religious tolerance, civility and the separation of church and state, SBC leaders’ own remarks told a different story.
"President Bush should repudiate SBC leaders’ rejection of the American tradition of religious pluralism and their appeals to bigotry," said People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas. "At a time when President Bush has called Americans to unity, he should not be embracing leaders whose message is grounded in sowing division."
President Bush told convention delegates that "Baptists have had an extraordinary influence on American history. They were among the earliest champions of religious tolerance and freedom. Baptists have long upheld the ideal of a free church in a free state. And from the beginning, they believed that forcing a person to worship against his will violated the principles of both Christianity and civility."
Neas said that while it is true that for many years Southern Baptists were among the strongest proponents of church-state separation and individual conscience in matters of religion, since the fundamentalist takeover of the denomination in the 1980s, it has been a far different story. "Unfortunately, President Bush wasn’t present to hear Southern Baptist leaders’ own take on religious pluralism and civility," Neas said.
The night before President Bush lavished praise on the SBC, the Rev. Jerry Vines, a former president of the SBC, told several thousand convention delegates that many of this country’s problems could be blamed on "religious pluralism," according to news accounts.
In addition, Vines harshly criticized Islam: "They would have us believe that Islam is just as good as Christianity. Christianity was founded by the virgin-born son of God, Jesus Christ. Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives, the last one of which was a 9-year-old girl." Vines continued, "And I will tell you Allah is not Jehovah either. Jehovah’s not going to turn you into a terrorist that’ll try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people."
Newly elected SBC President Rev. Jack Graham called Vines’ comments "an accurate statement." Outgoing SBC President Dr. James Merritt also backed Vines, saying, "historically, he is on solid ground."