Friday, June 10, 2005

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A church whose pastor was criticized last month for displaying a sign calling for the Koran to be “flushed” has withdrawn from the Southern Baptist Convention.

Pastor Creighton Lovelace did not immediately return calls yesterday, but in a phone message left at his church in Forest City, about 65 miles west of Charlotte, he identified it as “Danieltown Independent Baptist Church” rather than Danieltown Baptist Church.

Mr. Lovelace this week told the Biblical Recorder, the journal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, that criticism from fellow Baptists over the Koran sign was part of the reason the 55-member church voted to withdraw from the state and Southern conventions.

Mr. Lovelace posted a sign reading, “The Koran needs to be flushed” in late May, following press reports that interrogators in the detention center at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, desecrated the Koran, including by flushing one down a toilet. Newsweek magazine later apologized for errors in a news item stating the contention.

After being criticized from many sides — including by Muslim-American groups, Southern Baptists and other religious authorities — Mr. Lovelace changed the sign May 25, saying he did not realize how offensive the statement would be to Muslims.

“It was certainly not my intent to insult any people of faith, but instead to remind the people in this community of the pre-eminence of God’s word,” he said. “I apologize and deeply regret that it offended so many in the Muslim community.”

Officials at the Nashville, Tenn.-based Southern Baptist Convention had no comment on the church’s decision. There is no formal process by which churches remove themselves from the association. Those that wish to leave the convention simply stop contributing to it.

The SBC claims 16 million members in 42,000 American churches, making it the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

“There’s not much we can do, say or feel about” the church’s decision to withdraw from the state convention, said Norman Jameson, a Raleigh-based spokesman for the Baptist State Convention, “other than that they hadn’t been an active participating member of the convention for the last 10 years.”

Mr. Lovelace told the Recorder that some church members wanted to become independent even before the sign controversy. But he added that he and his congregants also were unhappy over “scathing” criticism of the sign on a Web log maintained by Baptist Recorder editor Tony W. Cartledge.

Events of recent years have forced state and national church leaders to recognize that “in the global climate, such a negative statement about any identifiable ethnic group can have severe negative consequences,” Mr. Jameson said.

“We have people who live and work around the globe doing positive Christian outreach and the national leadership recognized that such statements put them in danger,” he said. “Certainly we do not consider the Koran holy. We only have one holy book and it’s not that one.”

However, he added, “There are many truths that go unspoken wisely. … To say that the Koran should be flushed is not necessarily a truth. It’s a position or a perspective.”

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