President Bush gave a statement via satellite to the Southern Baptist Convention 2002 meeting in St. Louis on Tuesday. He said:
“Baptists have had an extraordinary influence on American history. They were among the earliest champions of religious tolerance and freedom. Baptists have long upheld the ideal of a free church in a free state. And from the beginning, they believed that forcing a person to worship against his will violated the principles of both Christianity and civility. What I found interesting is the Baptist form of church government was a model of democracy even before the founding of America. And Baptists understood the deep truth of what Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., said: ‘The church is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state…True faith is never isolated from the rest of life, and faith without works is dead. Our democratic government is one way to promote social justice and the common good, which is why the Southern Baptist Convention has become a powerful voice for some of the great issues of our time.” (UPI)
In the true spirit of inclusion and religious tolerance, Reverend Jerry Vines, of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., told a convention audience that, among other things, “Islam was founded by Muhamad, a demon-possessed pedofile.” (AP via the Kansas City Star). The AP reported today that “The Rev. Jack Graham, elected the convention’s president on Tuesday, said the Rev. Jerry Vines’ comments about Islam were ‘accurate.'”
I don’t think Bush believes any of this bigoted nonsense, although he deserves criticism for speaking to any group whose newly elected president would condone Vines’ hate. His advance team and communications department should do a better job of screening speakers before putting Bush into the position of praising a group for “principles of both Christianity and civility” when those values are clearly absent.