Southern Baptist President Bailey Smith, who last summer said that God doesn't hear the prayers of Jews, is now wondering why people are upset with him anew, this time because of a remark he made in a radio sermon about Jews having "funny-looking noses."
In a sermon broadcast from his Del City, Okla., church on Sept. 14, Smith raised the question of why the Jews should be God's chosen people.
According to a tape recording of the sermon made available by the Del City First Baptist Church, Smith said, ". . . Why did He choose Jews? I don't know why he chose the Jews. I think they got funny-looking noses, myself. I don't know why he chose the Jews. That's God's business."
The controversy erupted only after a rabbi, who had heard the sermon on the radio, secured the tape and made a copy of it available to Helen Parmley, religion editior of the Dallas Morning News. It was Parmley who broke the earlier story of Smith's comments about Jew's prayers, made to a right-wing fundamentalist rally in Dallas in August.
After the story of his comment on Jewish noses appeared, Smith said he made the comment "in jest." Smith said, "I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by my teasing. . . . Can't people tease anymore?"
Smith's earlier comment was widely denounced both by Jews and by his fellow Southern Baptists, although some Baptists also defended Smith. Locally, The D.C. Baptist Convention, in its semiannual meeting here last week, adopted a watered-down resolution on the controversy.
Acting before the controversy over Smith's latest comments broke, the convention here rejected a proposal that would have branded Smith's statement about Jews and prayer "presumptuous" and "not representative of the beliefs of Southern Baptists." Instead they adopted a version which did not mention Smith by name but noted only that "God is sovereign, and He hears and answers prayers from whomever He wills." It also pledged to "continue to seek every opportunity to build relationships with our Jewish friends."
The Southern Baptist Convention's news service, Baptist Press, gave extensive coverage to the earlier controversy, quoting numerous Baptist leaders who were critical of Smith. However, Dan Martin, news editor of the service, was critical of the Dallas newspaper for breaking the latest story about the president of the nation's largest Protestant denomination, calling it "a cheap shot."
Dr. David Hyatt, president of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, denounced Smith's comment about Jewish noses. "It's those kinds of snide remarks that, if left unchallenged, plant the virulent cancers that lead to holocausts, apartheid laws and social repression, sanctioned by an elite few." Hyatt said.
Virginia Baptists, who also met last week, went on record to make it clear that Smith did not speak for them on the question of whose prayers God hears. tThe Virginia Baptist Convention upheld traditional Baptist belief that "each Baptist church is autonomous and relinquishes to no one the privilege to speak for it." The statement went on to reaffirm "our faith in the centrality of Jesus Christ in man's salvation and that God hears the prayers of every person."
The D.C. Convention, in a separate resolution, denounced the "arrogant and inaccurate" claims of right-wing religious groups such as Moral Majority for purporting "to speak for God, the Christian Church or Baptists at large." The resolution charged that many of the positions taken by such groups "represent neither the will of God as we see it nor a Christian consensus."
Smith was elected head of the Southern Baptists earlier this year at a convention marked by growing tension between fundamentalist and conservative wings of the denomination.