On Dec. 30, a suspected Islamic militant killed three workers at a Southern Baptist hospital in Yemen - the latest in a series of attacks over the last year on American religious workers abroad. "We are not sure if you are aware of the ramifications that comments that malign Islam and Muhammad have - not only on the message of the gospel but also upon the lives of our families as we are living in the midst of already tense times," the missionaries said in the Jan. 10 letter.
The statement was signed by "a group of Southern Baptists serving in the Muslim world," who did not give their names. The two dozen missionaries were from 10 countries in the Mideast, North Africa, East Africa and South Asia.
Several Southern Baptist leaders have condemned Islam since the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The Rev. Jerry Vines, a former Southern Baptist president, has called the Prophet Muhammad a "demon-possessed pedophile." The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, called Islam "a very evil and wicked religion."
The Rev. Jerry Falwell has said the religion promotes violence. His remark sparked rioting in India that led to confrontations between Muslims and Hindus which left five people dead. Falwell later apologized.
The missionaries work under the auspices of the Southern Baptist's International Mission Board in Richmond, which has about 5,500 missionaries around the world. George Braswell Jr., the first Southern Baptist missionary in Iran and a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., delivered the letter to the mission board after meeting with the workers overseas. He then made the statement public. Reached Friday by The Associated Press, Braswell declined to elaborate.
The Rev. Jack Graham, president of the convention, was traveling Friday and could not be reached for comment, according to the Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, where he serves as pastor.
The board released a short statement in response to the plea, saying that the missionaries simply wanted their fellow Baptists to focus on the positive side of their faith "rather than arguing Islam vs. Christianity." "I believe what they were trying to say is that their concern is communicating the gospel to lost persons without having to defend what someone in America said about Islam," said Avery Willis Jr., senior vice president of the board's overseas operations office.