Magazine article The Christian Century

Faithful Witness

Magazine article The Christian Century

Faithful Witness

Article excerpt

THE SHARP AWARENESS of religious pluralism that developed in the 20th century is likely only to intensify in the 21st century. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, people of other faiths and people of no explicit faith will increasingly work, study and play together--and share their faith with one another in formal and informal ways.

Some of the challenges of this reality were made plain last month when Chicago's Council on Religious Leaders engaged the Southern Baptist Convention about its evangelism program. The council, which includes Jewish, Hindu and Muslim leaders as well as a wide range of Christians, was concerned about the SBC's plan to send 100,000 volunteer evangelists to the city next summer. In view of the SBC's focus on evangelizing Jews, Hindus and Muslims, as announced in prayer guides issued recently by the SBC's International Mission Board, the council worried (plausibly) that the summer evangelism project could increase interfaith tensions, and it suggested (less plausibly) that this evangelism could play into the hands of hate groups.

If the council hoped that these comments would be taken as a bit of fraternal advice, it sabotaged the effort by releasing the letter to the press before delivering it to SBC President Paige Patterson. Patterson reacted defensively, asserting Southern Baptists' constitutional right to evangelize and suggesting that it was evangelistic-minded Southern Baptists who were most likely to be objects of prejudice and hate. Ironically, the council's plea for religious sensitivity and tolerance toward other faiths looked to Patterson like religious insensitivity and intolerance toward the SBC. An opportunity was missed for an important interfaith and inter-Christian dialogue.

The Southern Baptists insist that they intend simply to share the gospel in a loving and noncoercive way. …

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