By JOE HOLLENBAUGH
The declared mission of Southern Baptists is to bring all people to the cross of Christ.
Now the Baptists have focused their mission on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
On Feb. 6-8 the Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. will host a “Cult Awareness Crusade.” One of the three-evening events is dedicated to a presentation on “Mormonism,” which the Crusade calls “the largest and fastest growing cult in America.”
The Southern Baptists have come under heavy fire recently for their positions on Jews, Muslims, Hindus and social issues. At their 1998 convention in Salt Lake City, they issued a statement that women should “submit themselves graciously” to their husbands.
In 1997, they organized a boycott of Disney, alleging that Disney products condone homosexuality.
Now they are embarking on a new crusade. This year, Southern Baptist churches throughout the south will host Cult Awareness Crusades conducted by Watchman Fellowship, Inc.
WFI president James Walker was raised a member of the LDS Church. According to his biography he left the church at age 21 when he “received Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.”
WFI produced a “list of cults,” among which are Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Baha’is, Buddhists, Freemasons, “liberal Christians,” feminists, and Mormons.
The Rev. Rhett Durfee, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Provo, grew up in the LDS Church in southern Utah. He said the purpose of these crusades is education. The goal, he said, is to explain the differences in what he calls crucial doctrines.
Durfee said the issues center on specific beliefs. Southern Baptists believe that the Bible is the complete and infallible word of God, and “hold their doctrine to be orthodox.”
The definition of a cult, Durfee said, is “any unorthodox system of belief.” However, he said he prefers to avoid the term “cult” because “it is offensive.”
Durfee said he also feels LDS people are overly sensitive. He said, “it’s part of the persecution complex that they grew up under. Everybody’s picking on them.”
Historically, Southern Baptists have rejected the traditions of organized religion. Their doctrine is rooted in the reformation, which rejected the authority of the Catholic Church and considered the Bible the source of God’s will.
The faith now constitutes the largest Protestant denomination in America, with over 15 million adherents. It has raised its profile over the past few years as conservative members have come to dominate its umbrella organization, the Southern Baptist Convention.
SBC statements have provoked strong responses from targeted religious organizations.
The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization that promotes religious tolerance, said in a statement, “The campaign launched by Southern Baptists to convert Jews to Christianity is an insult to the Jewish people.”
In October last year, the Southern Baptists published a booklet stating that Hindus are, “lost in hopeless darkness.”
The Hindu newspaper, Vaishnava News, quoted Hari Sharma, a Hindu leader in Chicago, as saying, “Whoever publishes such a book does a disservice to the society.”
Durfee said Southern Baptists have always been evangelical. “We don’t go out to make Southern Baptists of people, he said. “We want them to have a relationship with God through Christ.”