Recently on the Internet there was an article and a post having to do with Southern Baptists building mosques – places of worship for Muslims. I know many of you saw the article because many of you called me. Without going into too much detail, there was a photograph that went along with the article of a mosque under construction and superimposed on top of that was a photograph of Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville. Russell grew up in Biloxi. A sign on one side of him said, “Under construction,” and then there was a very official-looking kind of statement that said, “This mosque has been brought to your neighborhood by the Southern Baptist Convention,” with the official Southern Baptist Convention logo included. The article went on to say that Southern Baptists were undertaking construction of mosques across the land. The only problem with the article is that it is untrue. The fact is that the group that put it out and puts out similar materials seeks to do so to make light and fun of serious issues. In fact, the headline above that composite photograph and the article said, “Southern Baptist Convention launches mosque building program to promote ‘religious liberty’ and ‘niceness.’”
Soon after this was put on the Internet, I began receiving calls about it wanting to know what in the world we’re doing helping promote and build mosques all across the country. I didn’t know what they were talking about, and neither did my callers in the sense that they thought this was a real deal. The truth is that the whole thing was satire. It was a hoax. It was a joke. It was making light of a serious situation. Satire is an interesting concept, for it is the kind of humor that makes light of almost anything and everything. It is the kind of humor you would read if you were to look at Mad Magazine through the years that it has been published, or if you watch Saturday Night Live. From time to time you’ll see them do hard, hurtful, and silly satirical things to make fun of some serious idea. The problem is that this satire looked so real that most of the people who began to call and contact me were convinced that something was going on in which we, meaning Southern Baptists, were involved in building mosques across our land.
I began to make some contacts and try to find the materials and finally when I did, I not only found out what the authors were doing but that we can easily be misled. Satire is a fascinating form of humor and you see and hear it almost daily, but oftentimes it is unfunny. I understand and I know that “unfunny” is not a word, but I called the title of this article Unfunny because what the authors did in painting Southern Baptists as they did was certainly unfunny. I can tell you this. The people who put out the information need to be held accountable because this kind of satire can be harmful beyond restoration.
Even in just thinking about what took place, I thought about how this kind of satire drains you. In fact, I began to get calls from across the state. E-mails from beyond the state. Folks wanting to know what we need to do to stop this. You don’t have to do anything to stop the building of mosques because Southern Baptists are not building mosques. I was late to some appointments I had. I had to postpone an appointment that I was supposed to have, all while chasing down this information and trying to stop it because a lot of people were taking it seriously and believing Southern Baptists were involved in something they didn’t agree with. It drains you. The truth is that these kinds of stories can get you all emotionally worked up, even beside yourself, and others who are trying to figure out what is taking place have to waste valuable time and energy that could be focused on what they really need to be taking care of and it just simply drains you.
I remember years ago while I was a pastor, a man stopped by the church and had a newspaper that was produced by one of our colleges. The front page of the newspaper said that this famous dance team — I’m talking about a group of young women who were on TV at the time and they danced and sometimes it was kind of risqué, I think — but anyway the headline said that they were scheduled to be at that college in just a few weeks. It went on and had a long article how everyone needed to get their tickets and what an exciting time was going to be on campus. The man with the copy of the paper was telling me that we had to do something about this, that somebody needed to stop this travesty. I asked, “Could I see the paper?” He handed it to me. As I surveyed the picture on the front page and began to read the article, I saw something that I think he had overlooked. As he went on telling me this needed to be corrected, I said, “Did you read this entire article?” “I absolutely did, every word of it,” he said. I said, “Well, maybe you need to read it again.” He said, “Well, I read it. Looked over it and it burned me up.” I handed the paper back to him and said, “Read the very first part of it. The date that is there.” He looked up at me and said, “I’ve been had.” It was just a satirical joke, and no doubt a lot of other people had been taken too. This kind of thing can drain you.
The other thing that happens is oftentimes it pains you. For many people it creates a kind of emotional and spiritual pain which is deep, and you’ve a had hard time dealing with that. For some, it pains them because they believe it and move on bitterly and with uncertainty about their church or denomination and do not get information that corrects all that.
One other thing these kind of unfunny incidents promote is that it stains you. Some who are hurt by reading it then feel hurt even more because it wasn’t true and they were vulnerable to taking it in, but a greater stain it leaves on all of us is that it makes more and more people question the reality of more and more things to the point where you don’t know where to turn. I can tell you this, that you cannot believe everything you read on the Internet. I don’t care what it looks like or what it sounds like. Further, I can tell you that if you see something that doesn’t look quite right, you should go to somebody — some person who will get down to the facts of the matter – who can help you to understand what is taking place so that you won’t be duped, misled, and hurt by it.
I appreciate so much the people who contacted me and gave me opportunity to respond to them and say that this is not a reality. These authors were trying to make a joke, and an unfunny joke it is. The final stain that it leaves is that you just get to the place where you don’t trust anybody or anything and you try to move along and build up a crust and a kind of attitude and jadedness that nothing in life is right or good. That is not true. Baptists are deeply involved in starting churches and building churches and seeking to enlarge the kingdom of our Lord Jesus. While the Lord has called us to love everyone, He has not entrusted to us the responsibility of building mosques or places of worship for anything other than for His Name’s sake. That we will do until He returns. Other than that, you just have to mark some things down as unfunny and move on.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.