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Evangelistic efforts not targeting other faith groups, Reccord says

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Southern Baptists’ focused efforts to share the gospel in Chicago are intended for everyone who will hear it — not any particular religious groups, North American Mission Board President Bob Reccord said on a national radio talk show Jan. 7.

“We have only one group that we want to focus on, and that’s anybody that hasn’t had … the opportunity to respond to the claims of Jesus Christ,” Reccord said, responding to concerns the Strategic Focus Cities initiative in Chicago will focus on other religious groups such as Jews or Hindus.

“Our view is the gospel is for everybody, and we believe that’s exactly the same view that Scripture has,” he said.

Reccord was a guest on “That’s the Law,” a program on legal issues and Christianity hosted by attorney Herb Titus on the VCY America radio network, based in Milwaukee, Wisc.

Much of the discussion focused on recent comments by evangelist Billy Graham that, according to reports, indicated less than full support for the Chicago effort.

“I normally defend my denomination. I’m loyal to it,” he said on Fox News program Jan. 2. “But I have never targeted Muslims. I have never targeted Jews.

“I believe that we should declare the fact that God loves you, God’s willing to forgive you, God can change you, and Christ and his kingdom is open to anybody who repents and by faith receives him as Lord and Savior,” Graham said.

Reccord said he agreed completely with Graham’s emphasis, but was “dumbfounded” when he read the media inference that somehow the Southern Baptist efforts would not follow the same approach.

“The last thing we would ever want to do is that [target Muslims or Jews more than anyone else],” he said. Southern Baptists are fulfilling Christ’s call to “love one another” by going to Chicago at the invitation of local Southern Baptists, Reccord said, asking, “How can we change people’s lives and minister to the city?”

“We would just say our desire, like any evangelical, is to share the wonderful news of Jesus Christ and what he can do to change a life,” he said.

Unfortunately, Reccord said, Graham was being forced to respond to a Strategic Focus Cities effort on which he had not been briefed and the opposition to it from a group of religious leaders in Chicago. That opposition, in turn, was colored by a series of prayer guides published by the International Mission Board designed to help Southern Baptist pray more effectively for people of other faiths — an effort which had nothing to do with the NAMB effort to reach the nation’s largest cities.

“The ironic thing is while Dr. Graham was cast into that issue by the media, just the week before I had had the privilege of being with Dr. Graham at a dinner [at the United Nations in New York City],” Reccord said. “He shared very clearly the gospel of Jesus Christ, how it had changed his life, how he knew when he died he was going to heaven … and that he hoped everyone there would grapple with that issue. And that was to Jews, Muslims, Protestants, etc. from across the world.”

Calling Graham a “wonderful gentleman,” he suggested the remarks might have been misinterpreted.

“He said I almost always support my denomination. He never did say I don’t support them now,” Reccord said, noting that Southern Baptists, like Graham, are not interested in proselytizing anyone. “We are interested in sharing the good news of Christ, and then letting people decide for themselves based on the claims of Scripture.”

“What a powerful distinction,” he said. “(Proselytization) is trying to argue somebody to my position, rather than persuasion — where I just say, ‘Here’s what’s happened to me. Here’s what the Scripture says. You just decide for yourself.'”

Reccord also responded to charges from the statement by religious leaders in Chicago that the initiative would prompt a rise in hate crimes. Such misunderstandings are a result of how society has defined tolerance.

“If anybody says that there is an absolute, then pretty soon they become intolerable. And so as a result it’s easy to start labeling,” he said. “Too often one of the labels that gets placed is you hate anybody who does not see it just like you do. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

He said it was ironic that one of the rabbis who signed the letter in Chicago said he would welcome 200,000 volunteers interested in helping Chicagoans who need the assistance.

“Ironically one of the things we are coming to do is to work on inner-city housing, to minister to those in need, to help tutor kids, etc.,” Reccord said. “In that process we will have an entrée to share the wonderful news of Christ and let others make the decision as they will.”

Reccord also touched on a number of related issues, including the confusion of Jefferson’s concepts of religious liberty with the modern understanding of separation of church and state.

“The original writings of Jefferson which this whole thing evolved was keeping government out of religion, and not religion or religious beliefs out of government,” he said.

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  • James Dotson