Rev. Jerry Falwell's highly publicized declaration on 60 Minutes in October that "Muhammad was a terrorist" was hateful, ignorant, arrogant, irresponsible, and destructive. Once again, the self-appointed spokesman for Christianity was so far out of bounds that he was compelled to issue an apology (of sorts) when his words were directly tied to violent outbursts in India that resulted in numerous deaths.
Falwell's statement came in the context of an interview in which he clearly implied that he and his constituency control President Bush's policies toward Israel and Palestine. The remarks were repudiated by a variety of Christian leaders, but great damage had already been done.
These inflammatory remarks continue a clear pattern of pronouncements that Falwell, Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, and others have made since Sept. 11, 2001. Time and again, these and others have declared Islam to be an "evil religion" and asserted that Christians and Muslims are not talking about the same God. Rev. Jerry Vines, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of a 25,000-member church in Jacksonville, Florida, attracted national attention last June when he proclaimed Muhammad to be "a demon-possessed pedophile."
These kinds of verbal assaults on Islam and the prophet of Islam do far more damage than most Americans realize. They feed extremism among Muslims who want to frame conflict as being between Christians and Muslims. Such hateful statements literally put Christian missionaries and humanitarian aid workers at risk all over the world. Pompous proclamations undermine or destroy efforts many Christians and other people of good will make to build bridges of understanding and cooperation, often in the midst of very difficult circumstances.
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