Leaders say derisive comments have endangered lives, strained relations
AP, May 8, 2003
By RACHEL ZOLL, The Associated Press
In an unusual public rebuke, leading evangelical Christians condemned derogatory statements about Islam by the Rev. Franklin Graham and others among their fellow religious conservatives. They also pledged to improve relations with Muslims.
The evangelicals meeting Wednesday said the derisive comments endangered Christian missionaries in the Muslim world, strained already tense interfaith relations and fed the perception in the Mideast and beyond that the war on terrorism is a Christian crusade against Islam.
“We must temper our speech,” said the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents more than 43,000 congregations and helped organize the meeting. “There has to be a way to do good works without raising alarms.”
Graham was in San Diego on Wednesday for a mission led by his father, the Rev. Billy Graham, and could not immediately be reached to comment, said his spokesman, Jeremy Blume.
Hodan Hassan, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is among Graham’s harshest critics, said she was encouraged by Wednesday’s meeting. About 50 representatives of evangelical churches, schools and mission groups attended.
“We can understand theological differences, but what’s important is that the dialogue is one of respect, not demonization,” Hassan said.
Muslims were outraged when Franklin Graham called Islam “a very evil and wicked religion” after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and last summer when the Rev. Jerry Vines, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, called the Prophet Muhammad “a demon-possessed pedophile.”
The Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson also have criticized the religion.
Clive Calver, president of World Relief, the humanitarian relief arm of the evangelical association, said all of the statements have “placed lives and livelihoods at risk” overseas, where missionaries have become targets of Muslim extremists.
Conservative Christians have been struggling to end abuse of minority Christians in Muslim countries, while Muslims resent Christian proselytizing in their communities.
Evangelicals also will not participate in interfaith talks that require them to play down their beliefs — a concession they believe liberal Christians have wrongly made to befriend Muslims. And for some conservative Christians, Islam has replaced communism as the “modern-day equivalent of the evil empire,” said Rich Cizik, a spokesman for the National Association of Evangelicals.
Haggard suggested holding a meeting with Falwell, Robertson and other high-profile evangelicals to explain the damage their comments have caused.
“We’ve got to have an attitude of how can we serve, how can we help,” Calver said. “Saying Islam is evil isn’t going to help any of us.”