July 3, 2002
FORT WORTH, Texas–Daniel Vestal, national coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, pledged that the CBF’s General Assembly would not be a reaction to the recent Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, and especially not to remarks about Islam made by Jerry Vines.
Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla., referred to Muhammad as a "demon-possessed pedophile" and to Islam as a religion which breeds terrorism in an address to the SBC Pastors’ Conference June 10. The comments were widely reported by secular news outlets, prompting other SBC leaders to address the issue.
James Merritt, immediate past president of the SBC, and Jack Graham, president of the SBC, both issued statements in support of Vines.
CBF leaders, however, avoided commenting on the issue when they gathered for the group’s annual meeting in Fort Worth, Texas.
Phill Martin, moderator-elect for the CBF and a Richardson, Texas, layman, said he disagreed with Vines’ comments but that he had no desire to stir the controversy and add to the debate. "I think the statement Daniel Vestal issued says it all. We don’t need to say anything else," he said.
The statement to which Martin referred was issued by Vestal June 20 via the Internet. In the statement, Vestal wrote that remarks of SBC leaders were "not in the spirit of Christ."
"To malign or denigrate the historic or current leaders of Islam contradicts our Christian commitment of love for all people. We desire the highest good for Muslims and grieve with you over the pain such remarks have caused," he wrote.
Vestal has since refused to comment further on the issue, saying that the statement "speaks for itself." When asked by Baptist Press whether he believes that faith in Christ is the only way a Muslim could be saved, Vestal said only that he was "a committed Christian" and believed in "fulfilling the Great Commission." He declined to make further comments on the record about the exclusive nature of Christianity.
Jim Baucom, the CBF’s outgoing moderator, also deferred from making any comment on Vines’ statements, but said that he personally believes that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way a Muslim or anyone else can be saved.
Few CBF participants were willing to speak to Baptist Press about Vines.
However, after a breakout session on the CBF and ecumenism, Brenda Lynn Kneece, executive minister of the South Carolina Christian Action Council, said that Vine’s comments were "terribly hurtful" to Muslims.
"His words were inappropriate. When we share the gospel we have to approach people with dignity and respect," she said.
The Christian Action Council, once funded by the South Carolina Baptist Convention, has as its primary task the promotion of racial reconciliation. The organization also promotes ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.
Speakers made no overt references to Vine’s remarks in the general sessions of the CBF assembly.