The Tennessean, June 17, 2003
By BRIAN LEWIS, Staff Writer
One year after the Rev. Jerry Vines generated a year’s worth of controversy by calling the founder of Islam ”a demon-possessed pedophile,” Ergun Caner, a theology professor from Criswell College in Dallas, picked up where Vines left off.
Caner, a Turkish immigrant who converted to Christianity as a child, spoke to pastors at the denomination’s annual convention yesterday about his disdain for questions on why he switched religions.
”I didn’t switch nothing,” he said. ”I got saved. I went from worshipping a false, dead idol to knowing the one true living sovereign Lord.”
Vines’ conference is a regular prelude to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, which opens today at the Phoenix Civic Center. Vines’ ”pedophile” comment was made at last year’s pastors conference in St. Louis.
Vines has been criticized by many, including other Baptists, who said such derogatory comments about Muhammad would make it more difficult for Christian missionaries working in Muslim nations.
The pastors conference where Caner was speaking concluded last night with a ”Kingdom Family Rally.” Family figures will be the main focus for the Nashville-based denomination’s annual meeting this week, with speakers such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family, a pro-family ministry based in Colorado.
Attendees were given cards at the rally so they could sign allegiance to the seven pillars of ”kingdom families”: honoring God’s authority; respecting human life; exercising moral purity; serving the church; using time wisely; practicing biblical stewardship; and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Jack Graham of Texas is expected to be re-elected unopposed as president of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. With no internal controversies looming, such as the convention’s leadership, the focus on families is an attempt to witness to the world in the absence of arguing with each other.
Their uncompromising view of biblical truth, however, has drawn some detractors — three groups have permits to protest.
Soulforce, a network of Christians advocating full acceptance of gays and lesbians in churches, held the largest protest yesterday. Many of the three dozen carried red stop signs saying, ”Stop Spiritual Violence.”
Two other protests by We Hold These Truths and the Phoenix Anarchist Coalition attracted few demonstrators. The former is a Christian peace activist group opposed to the Baptist stance on war in the Middle East, and the latter is a group that opposes the denomination’s positions on women in leadership and homosexuality.
Collin Walker, one of the anarchists, said he thinks the view of homosexuality that Baptists and some other Christian groups have — to hate the sin but love the sinner — leads many young people to attempt suicide.
”It’s not as benign as their theorist Jesus was,” he said.
But Walker’s liberal views were clearly in the minority as the words of Vines and Caner drew resounding applause.
When Vines, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, took the stage Sunday evening, he began his sermon by saying he had promised not to be controversial. However, near the end of a sermon on Enoch, a figure from the book of Genesis, he said, ”I’m going to give all of you media what you came for.”
He pulled a folded piece of paper from his pocket and read: ”All religions are not the same. All religions are not equally true. There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved, except the name of Jesus.”
Vines’ incendiary remarks from last year’s conventions came mostly from Caner’s research. Caner, along with his brother Emir, wrote a book called Unveiling Islam: An Insider’s Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs.
”To all the embedded media who are here with us at the Southern Baptist Convention: if you’ve got to report on us, get the message right,” Caner said. ”Southern Baptists don’t believe that God is our God. He is the God. He is not one way. He is the way. He is not a hope. He is the hope.”