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Islam Stand Brings Rebuke

Evangelical Christians say remarks by the Rev. Franklin Graham and others imply that the war on terrorism is a crusade.

May 10, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — In an unusual public rebuke, leading evangelical Christians this week condemned derogatory statements about Islam by the Rev. Franklin Graham and other fellow religious conservatives.

The evangelicals, at a 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 Assn. 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."

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Graham called Islam "a very evil and wicked religion." Last summer, 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.

Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom, a human rights group, said anti-Islam comments serve only to antagonize people.

"Exactly what is to be achieved by that, except boosting the ego of who said it?" he asked.

Clive Calver, president of World Vision, 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.

Graham, in San Diego for a mission led by his father, the Rev. Billy Graham, was not available for 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.

"We can understand theological differences but what's important is that the dialogue is one of respect, not demonization," Hassan said.

No Muslims participated in the event, although a local mosque director was invited.

To repair the damage to relations with Muslims, the evangelical group and the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative Christian organization, are drafting guidelines to begin interfaith dialogue with Islamic leaders. While Muslim leaders have been meeting regularly with liberal Protestants, no such national dialogue has taken place with evangelical Christians.

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