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Baptists Acknowledge Sexual Abuses

Religion: 'Our own fallenness' must be addressed, say delegates to meeting of largest Protestant group in the U.S. A Catholic liaison praises wording.

June 13, 2002|From Times Wire Services

ST. LOUIS — As Roman Catholic bishops gathered Wednesday to take up the issue of child abuse, the nation's largest Protestant denomination acknowledged "our own fallenness" and urged churches to discipline sex offenders.

A nonbinding resolution adopted by 9,500 delegates at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting called on member churches to address sex offenses by ministers, counselors, chaplains, missionaries and others within their congregations. It also called on churches to cooperate with civil authorities in prosecutions.

Convention members also adopted, without debate, resolutions praying for peace in the Middle East, supporting Israel and the war on terrorism, and denouncing a new gender-neutral translation of the Bible.

Because of the traditional autonomy of the Southern Baptists' local churches, the resolutions are not binding on the denomination's 16 million members.

On the "sexual integrity of ministers," delegates expressed sympathy for sex-abuse victims and their families and said violators should be prosecuted "to the full extent of the law."

"Ministers serve as trusted members of the community, in public ministry, in personal and family counseling contexts, and as private citizens," said the resolution, which passed with near unanimity. The Rev. Frank Ruff, liaison to the Southern Baptist Convention from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was pleased with the "sensitive" wording and tone of the resolution.

"It's not a put-down. It's not any kind of condemnatory or accusatory kind of statement," Ruff said. "What I actually see happening is a lot of support and empathy with a very evil moment in our awareness of evil in ourselves."

Meanwhile, a national Muslim organization Wednesday called on religious and political officials to reject and repudiate a prominent Southern Baptist pastor's labeling of the Prophet Muhammad as a "demon-possessed pedophile."

The comments by Jerry Vines, a Jacksonville, Fla., pastor and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, were made Monday during the denomination's annual Pastor's Conference, which meets just before the two-day annual meeting of the denomination.

In preaching on the issue of religious pluralism, Vines criticized those who believe all religions are of equal merit.

"I'm here to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that Islam is not just as good as Christianity," he said. "Christianity was founded by the virgin-born son of God, the lord Jesus Christ. Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives and his last one was a 9-year-old girl."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington urged a critical response.

"We're calling on President Bush, other elected officials, as well as Christian and Jewish national leaders to repudiate these hate-filled remarks because I think silence on this issue equals acceptance and very often Muslims are criticized for a harsh spirit, harsh rhetoric or incitement," said Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR spokesman.

Bush addressed the opening session of the Southern Baptists via satellite on Tuesday and told the messengers, or delegates, that he and they "share common commitments."

Top Southern Baptist officials supported Vines' stance. Hooper said that that was "particularly disturbing."

Jack Graham, a Dallas-area pastor elected Tuesday as the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention, was among Vines' supporters.

"Dr. Vines is one of our most dynamic preachers," Graham told reporters at a news conference shortly after his election. "Actually, his statement can be confirmed."

Graham said he asked for the source of Vines' statement but did not cite it to reporters. "I believe the statement is an accurate statement," he said.

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