- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2002

ST. LOUIS (AP) The head of the Southern Baptists condemned homosexuality from the podium yesterday as angry homosexual-rights protesters and a Muslim group marched through the convention hall.
Twelve pro-homosexual protesters were arrested inside the hall and 38 more were taken into custody outside, where riot police stood near the main doorway. The dozen protesters who infiltrated the annual meeting of the nation's largest Protestant denomination were charged with ethnic intimidation and trespassing.
"Stop killing us. Stop the spiritual violence," one man shouted as police dragged him behind the curtains at America's Center. A woman from the group Soulforce, which claims Southern Baptist teachings lead to violence against homosexuals, shouted: "God loves his gay children."
"You need Jesus," shouted back the Rev. Robert Smith, a pastor from Cedar Bluff, Ala. Others hissed as protesters were led away.
A leading Islamic group demanded the Southern Baptist Convention condemn "bigoted" and "hate-filled" statements made by one of its pastors.
The Rev. Jerry Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., told the convention that many of this country's problems can be blamed on religious pluralism.
Pluralists "would have us to believe that Islam is just as good as Christianity, but I'm here to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that Islam is not just as good as Christianity," Mr. Vines, a former Southern Baptist Convention president, told several thousand delegates at the gathering in St. Louis.
"Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives and his last one was a 9-year-old girl. And I will tell you, Allah is not Jehovah, either. Jehovah's not going to turn you into a terrorist that'll try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people."
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the comments were outrageous.
"It's really unfortunate that a top leader in a mainstream Christian church would use such hate-filled and bigoted language in describing the faith of one-fifth of the world's population," Mr. Hooper said yesterday. "This is the level of bigotry that requires a clear statement from the top leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention."
The homosexual-rights protesters tried to disrupt Southern Baptist President James Merritt's keynote address to nearly 9,000 delegates and their families. Mr. Merritt took aim at the media and Hollywood, citing surveys that show nearly unanimous acceptance in those groups of homosexuality.
"More and more we're being told sit down, shut up, go along, get along, be inclusive, be tolerant, be nice and be quiet," he said. But Mr. Merritt said Southern Baptists have a "biblical responsibility" to preach against such things.
"We now face the fact that there are certain groups that are going to protest us every year," he said. "They have let me know in their correspondence, 'We are not going away.' Well, I've got news for the pornographer, the adulterer, the homosexual, the pedophile, the abortionist: We are not going away, either."
The Southern Baptists claim more than 16 million members.

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