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Chicago may have a reputation for generosity toward strangers, but this summer visiting Southern Baptists may find fewer welcome mats on urban doorsteps. This year the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) launches its Strategic Cities Initiative, a new effort for evangelism and community service in major metropolitan areas. The campaign will include Chicago, which is home to one of the nation's largest Roman Catholic Archdioceses and is a primary population center for Jews.

As information about the campaign developed, SBC critics pushed the unfounded report that 100,000 Southern Baptists would converge on Chicago like an invading army.

How did a three-year, service-based outreach to Chicago get misrepresented as a plague of hit-and-run evangelists shoving the gospel down the throats of unwary citizens? Why is the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews breaking ties with the SBC, as Hindus worldwide declare the SBC's style of proselytizing arrogant and obtuse?The SBC says it is being mistreated for obeying the Great Commission. "I believe that any time you speak from the position that there is a heaven and a hell, and that people are going to spend eternity in one place or the other, then you are going to cause offense," SBC President Paige Patterson told Christianity Today. From his perspective, people who do not value the gospel are using the language of tolerance and political correctness to stop Christian witness.

Critics maintain the SBC is simply reaping the harvest that comes to those who sow the language of "triumphalism and bravado." Members of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago said they asked Southern Baptists to refrain from visiting Chicago because ...

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February 7, 2000

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