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October 19, 2002
Column #1103

Falwell Loses Fight With Mohammad

     What is the job of a leading American evangelical?

     To evangelize, right? To make a case that Jesus is Lord, that He is the son of God. Therefore, the case for Jesus must be made persuasively and winsomely with unbelievers. 

     Here's how Jerry Falwell did it with Muslims on the widely-watched CBS show, "60 Minutes,": "I think Mohammed was a terrorist....He was a violent man, a man of war...Jesus set the example for love, as did Moses, and I think Mohammed set an opposite example."

     His comment was a match thrown into a gasoline tank. The explosion was world-wide.

     In Solapur, India Muslim youths who gathered to protest Falwell's remarks, clashed with Hindu crowds and local police, sparking a riot that left nine dead and 100 wounded.

     Far more alarming was the impact in Pakistan on the eve of a crucial election. 

     Kanwar Muhammad Siddique, the leader of a militant Pakistani Muslim alliance of six political parties, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), denounced Falwell's "sacrilegious act," and demanded he be put on trial for attempting to disrupt world peace by inciting the Muslim community. He asked his government to lodge a formal protest.

     That did not happen. But instead of winning its usual four or five seats in parliament, MMA captured more than 50 seats and two of the nation's four provinces! How? Falwell statements were plastered in headlines on front pages of newspapers. "People are outraged; they are scandalized," says Akbar Ahmed, chairman of Islamic studies at American University. "Ordinary Pakistanis say, `A vote for the religious parties is a vote against the Americans."

     Falwell apologized over the weekend for calling Mohammad a "terrorist," though he used that term in a followup interview with the Associated Press: "I sincerely apologize that certain statements of mind...were hurtful to the feelings of many Muslims. I intended no disrespect to any sincere, law-abiding Muslim."

     However, apologies never catch up with page 1 headlines, and the harm was incalculable. "Jerry Falwell makes a statement, he pleases his constituents, then he says he's sorry and apparently thinks that's the end of it," Ahmed told "The Washington Post." "What Americans don't realize is that remarks like this are flashed all over the Muslim world and they are doing very serious damage to U.S. interests."

     Now the MMA parties are demanding that U.S. troops leave Pakistan and are calling for harsh Sharia Law in which women are sentenced to death for adultery and robbers lose an arm. 

     Words have consequences. 

     Other Baptist leaders have made similar personal attacks on Mohammad. Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson described Muhammad as an "absolute wild-eyed fanatic...a robber and brigand...a killer." Rev. Jerry Vines, past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told thousands of Baptists that Mohammad was a "demon-possessed pedophile." 

     Such ad hominem attacks on Mohammad are politically disastrous, ecumenically counter-productive and self-serving in the extreme. They undoubtedly please their U.S. constituencies, but instantly infuriate Muslims worldwide and actually could provoke new levels of jihad by terrorists who are willing to sacrifice their lives to kill Americans and Israelis.

     This vitriol makes the attempt to evangelize Muslims with the Christian message virtually impossible. How would you like to be one of the 300 Southern Baptist missionaries trying to win converts in 75 Muslim nations post Falwell, Robertson and Vines? 

     I am not excusing Muslim terrorism. Nor am I critical of a reasoned comparison of Christianity with Islam. In his new book, "The Name," Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham and now his successor, dismisses how "peace-oriented Islam is." He says quite the opposite can be seen in the Hadith, which quotes Mohammad as asserting "One (military) raid for the cause of Allah is better than seventy haij (pilgrimages to Mecca). 

     Sura (Chapter) 9:29 of the Koran approves of holy war (jihad) and high taxation of non-Muslims to make them submit to Islam: "Fight those who do not believe in Allah...nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book (Christians and Jews), until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection."

     However, attacks of Mohammad as a terrorist, a killer or a pedophile - even if true, are unChristian, couterproductive and politically frightening. 

     It is time for Baptists to tell their leaders to shut up.

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