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SBC interfaith leader urges Dalai Lama to reconsider ‘insensitive statement’

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–A Southern Baptist interfaith evangelism leader has called on the Dalai Lama to reconsider his recent condemnation of Christian witness.

“With all due respect to the opinions of the Dalai Lama, it is evident that, historically, world religions have never exercised restraint in their efforts to propagate their message beyond the regional borders where the religion had its origin,” said Rudy Gonzalez, director of interfaith evangelism for the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board.

Gonzalez noted that Buddhism, for example, “spread beyond its original birthplace of India and went out throughout South and Southeast Asia, including Tibet where Dalai Lama comes from.”

The Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of Tibetan Buddhists and a Nobel peace prize winner, joined Hindu leaders in condemning the Muslim and Christian practice of actively seeking converts after a Jan. 18 meeting with leaders of the World Hindu Council in India.

“Whether Hindu or Muslim or Christian, whoever tries to convert, it’s wrong, not good,” the Dalai Lama said. The council is an influential group that criticizes Christians and Muslims and aims to make multi-religious India into a Hindu state.

“I always believe it’s safer and better and reasonable to keep one’s own tradition or belief,” the Dalai Lama said.

He spoke after the Hindu Council’s general secretary, Ashok Singhal, had said, “Buddhism, Hinduism and other non-aggressive religions have to unite to douse Islam … an aggressive religion.”

The Dalai Lama and others signed a statement saying: “We oppose conversions by any religious tradition using various methods of enticement.”

NAMB’s Gonzalez, noting specifically the wave of Hindus in the United States in the 1960s and thereafter, said, “Even today, many Americans convert to the Hindu way of life, in large measure due to the efforts of Hindu religious leaders in the U.S.

“It would take no great effort to find significant numbers of American-born adherents to the Hindu and Buddhist ways of life. I am reminded of the wave of gurus that spread aspects of Hindu belief in the ’60s and afterwards. Even today, many Americans convert to the Hindu and Buddhist ways of life, in large measure due to the efforts of their religious leaders in the U.S. through new religious thoughts such as New Age movements.”

Gonzalez also took issue with the Dalai Lama’s statement that “conversions are out of date now.”

“I would ask him to reconsider such an insensitive statement,” Gonzalez said. “I doubt that people who come to faith in Jesus Christ consider their life-altering decision to be some sort of passing fad. Many people who come to acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior do so at considerable peril. … I wonder if the Dalai Lama has ever taken the time to hear a true convert to Christianity and attempt to understand why they embraced faith in Christ.”

At a doctrinal level, Gonzalez said, the Dalai Lama should realize that for people who hold deeply to their religious beliefs, “it is inconceivable that any of the basic tenets of their belief system could be so easily discarded. Evangelism, outreach to the world with the life-transforming message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, is a fundamental aspect of historic Christianity.

“Christianity exists today because believers throughout the ages have taken seriously the Lord’s commission to preach the gospel worldwide,” Gonzalez said. “Genuine Christianity knows no grandchildren. Every generation of Christians must be motivated by the impulse of God’s Spirit to evangelize and thus involve itself with God for the continuation of the church for that generation. For Southern Baptists, evangelism is not a matter decided by opinion polls or changing ecumenical opinion. Scripture is definitive, our mandate is clear.”

Gonzalez noted that “Southern Baptists reject coercive or manipulative attempts to proselytize peoples from other faiths. We are aware that individual organizations can let their zeal for converts get out of hand and corrupt their outreach strategy. Still, true Christianity is concerned with the needs of body, soul and spirit.

“Both the evangelist and his or her evangelistic methods need to be under the constant scope and constraints of Scripture and God’s discerning Spirit,” Gonzalez continued. “As Southern Baptists, our stance on the soul sufficiency of people respects and honors the God-given volition we all posses. Evangelism, from our perspective, is an invitation, nothing more, which people accept or reject on its merits. We believe those who come to embrace Christ are drawn by God’s Spirit. This is an aspect of God’s transcendent work, something that is never out of date.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: THE DALAI LAMA. Low res photo only.

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