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Baptist Leader Says Muslims Aren't Enemies

June 17, 2002|From Associated Press

PLANO, Texas — The new president of the Southern Baptist Convention, who defended a pastor's characterization of Islam founder Muhammad as a "demon-possessed pedophile," told his church congregation Sunday that the denomination isn't battling Islam.

"Our enemy is Satan, not any other religion," the Rev. Jack Graham said. "Our issue in life is not Muhammad or any other religious leader, it's Jesus Christ."

Graham was named last week to a one-year term as the leader of the nation's largest Protestant denomination during Southern Baptists' annual meeting in St. Louis.

Graham, pastor of massive Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, found himself in the middle of a firestorm when former convention president Jerry Vines told conventioneers that Islam's founder was a "demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives--and his last one was a 9-year-old girl."

Islamic leaders called the comment outrageous and bigoted, but Graham declined to condemn his colleague and called Vines' statement "accurate."

Graham, speaking with reporters after Sunday services, defended Vines as a pastor who has a record of reaching across racial and denominational lines.

"God loves Muslim people. Because God loves Muslim people, we do too," Graham said. "Our desire is to serve them and share in any way we can our faith with them."

Though he said he regretted the controversial climate in which it was raised, Graham said he was glad to be involved in a dialogue on Islam.

Southern Baptists claim more than 16 million members in the United States, including more than 3 million in Texas.

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