Southern Baptists Refuse To Cancel
Massive Outreach Program in Chicago
R S Shankar
At Hindu temples in and around Chicago, and at a number of Jewish temples and Catholic churches, religious and community leaders wonder: What to do when the Southern Baptists will send 100,000 volunteers to Chicago to spread the message of Christ? The Christian group officially announced this month its outreach program in Chicago in a few months.
This is the first time Southern Baptists have worked on such a grand plan. They plan to send such large number of volunteers to at least two American cities each year, to proselytize and do social work. Liberal Christian and Jewish organizations had written to the Southern Baptists last year to cancel their summer outreach program in Chicago. They feared that the aggressive Southern Baptist outreach program could lead to hate crimes against other religions. But the Southern Baptists are not relenting.
The Southern Baptists are the same people who publish booklets running down other religions, asking the Baptist followers to pray for their conversion.
The anti-Hindu booklet released by the Southern Baptist Convention, the ultimate religious authority for the Southern Baptists, was sent to thousands of their churches during the Diwali season. Among other things, the booklet said Hindus continued to live in darkness, despite the Diwali lamps, because they did not embrace Christ and they worshipped idols.
"Christianity and Hinduism are two great world religions, and both have many things in common - including the need to love the neighbor, forgive our enemies, work to help others," says Dr Bharat Barai, one of the pioneers of the Hindu temple movement in the Midwest and a prominent conmmunity leader.
He cannot, like other Hindus across America, understand why the Southern Baptists cannot take some time put to study the basics of Hinduism.
Though several demonstrations against Southern Baptists have taken place in Atlanta, Boston and Houston, led by Hindus and Jews, there are no immediate plans for Chicago demonstrations.
"We're not targeting Muslims, Jews, Hindus, or anybody," says Jim Queen, Southern Baptist leader in Chicago.
"Are we concerned about them? Do we love them? Are we praying for them? Oh, sure. I can't deny that. We're identifying groups, but not targeting. I think there's a whole lot of difference."
The controversy about the Southern Baptists's Chicago plan began in November with a letter from a group of Chicago religious leaders which was sent to people of various faiths and their leaders.
It urges the Southern Baptist Convention to cancel its outreach plans. In it, the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago, states: 'While we are confident that your volunteers would come with entirely peaceful intentions, a campaign of the nature and scope you envision could contribute to a climate conducive to hate crimes.'
A few weeks later, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart accused the SBC of 'perpetrating ancient religious hatred,' a comment he later retracted.
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