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November 30, 1999
Southern Baptists Ignore Warning
R S Shankar
Stung by criticism by Chicago's religious leaders against their evangelical efforts that have included ridiculing and insulting other religions, the Southern Baptists are saying they are the ones who are being intimidated. And they are vowing that they will take 100,000 missionaries to Chicago.
The influential Council of Religious Leaders in Greater Chicago told the Nashville-based evangelical group that the aggressive campaign against religious minorities could ignite problems and violence.
Chicago is the home of over half a million Jews, Hindus and Muslims, the target of Southern Baptist prayer booklets.
The Council of Religious Leaders includes Chicago's mainline Protestant, Jewish, Catholic and Orthodox leaders.
Reverend Paige Patterson, president of the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention, sent a letter on Monday to the Council of Religious Leaders of Greater Chicago defending the Baptists' right to evangelize, leaving no room for the dialogue sought by the Chicago's liberal clergy.
"Please be advised that all... unworthy attempts will fail to intimidate Southern Baptists from fulfilling the task assigned by Jesus," Patterson wrote. "...You appear to desire religious liberty for Bible-believing evangelicals as long as they agree not to exercise that freedom."
The Southern Baptist Convention has been planning a campaign to take 100,000 missionaries to Chicago in 2000, but following the protests against their booklets by Jews and Hindus in recent weeks, the Council wrote a letter questioning the wisdom of Chicago campaign.
Initially, the Southern Baptist leaders sought minimize the Hindu protests, saying that these had taken place in "only three cities" but the Council's letter, which was first published in the Chicago Sun-Times and has received wide publicity, has provoked their wrath.
The Council is an umbrella group representing 40 religious institutions. It sent a letter last weekend to Patterson asking his denomination to reconsider its plans for Chicago and enter into dialogue with the council. The letter cited a recent attack on half-a-dozen Jews and vandalism of a mosque, adding that Southern Baptists missionary activities could trigger similar violence.
Patterson sought to turn the tables.
He said his congregation would offer love and healing touch to people who are violent.
Southern Baptist leaders insisted the Chicago 2000 campaign is not meant to target any group of people for conversion, but is designed instead to reach out to the entire city. The missionaries would carry out charitable work, they said.
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