Religious tolerance critical for our nation

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 21, 2002

In a country founded on the ideals of religious freedom, it is disturbing to hear American religious leaders condemn and criticize other faiths.

But that’s just what happened last week when a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention criticized Islam, saying "Islam is just not as good as Christianity."

The Rev. Jerry Vines went on to condemn the religion, saying "Islam was founded by Mohammed, 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."

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Those comments, while motivated perhaps by the emotion and anger of living in a nation targeted by terrorists waging a "holy war," are disturbing because they ring of intolerance and ignorance. The comments condemn a religion based on the actions of some of its followers, a condemnation we don’t believe anyone should make.

We are, after all, human beings, with free will and the ability to choose our actions. Our faiths and our beliefs often play a formative role in those choices, guiding our decisions and our actions. But those religions do not force us to act. Nor can they force us to be tolerant, or faithful or even compassionate.

But we should strive to do all of that, no matter what our faith. And in our zeal to spread our faith ­ evangelization is, after all, a key component of the Christian faith ­ we must be mindful of the basic teachings of that faith: acceptance, tolerance, unconditional love.

In what has become our global village, it is even more critical that we remember those ideals of the founding fathers more than 200 years ago. Those men and women who came to America came in search of freedom ­ the freedom to worship as they pleased and to live in a community built on respect for other individuals and their beliefs.

It is that freedom that was attacked on 9-11. And while we have every right –

every responsibility – to find those individuals responsible and punish them, we must be mindful to separate the man from the faith.

We should ­ and must ­ condemn the individuals, not the religion. To do anything less would be an affront to our faith and our nation.  

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