James meeks, senior pastor of the 10,000-member Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, is renowned locally for setting audacious evangelistic goals—and then meeting them. In seminary, he read books by John MacArthur and Charles Swindoll and decided he wanted to grow a church as large as theirs. He did. When he founded Salem in 1985, Meeks set the goal of having the largest Sunday-school program in Chicago. It started with 50 students; today there are 2,000. In early 1999, Salem launched an ambitious evangelism campaign to bring 25,000 people to Christ; by year's end it had recorded 27,000 "confessions of faith"—and 3,000 of those people joined the church. Salem's list of ministries reads like a city directory: a daycare center, a 500-student grade school, Chicago's largest Christian bookstore, a soup kitchen, a counseling program for substance abusers.

Meeks's sermons are unabashedly Christ-centered. He is a frequent speaker at Moody Bible Institute's annual conferences. One of his close friends and prayer partners is Charles Lyons, a white Southern Baptist pastor. Meeks recently completed a campaign to deliver cassette tapes of the New Testament to each of the 38,170 prison inmates in Illinois. He is, by all indications, a passionate evangelical Christian.

But there's just one thing. Meeks is the executive vice president of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and a longtime admirer of the controversial civil rights leader. Meeks was 14 when he discovered his hero. It was 1972, and Jackson was a brash young preacher from South Carolina who had been a member of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous team of activist clergymen. Jackson's Chicago-based ministry, Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity), was located near Meeks's ...

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