Southern Baptists expect about 5,000 volunteers--half from out of state--to gather July 8 at a lakefront festival here as the highlight of their yearlong outreach.
Initial reports that 100,000 members of the nation's largest Protestant denomination would visit the city this summer appear to be exaggerated. Instead, Jim Queen, executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Baptist Association, said he was seeking "100,000 volunteer days this year" from the 15 million-member Baptist convention.
Those hours have been piling up since last month, when college students performed an unspecified number of hours of community service. Queen said that next month, 400 students working a week would generate 2,800 volunteer days.
An unknown number of local evangelical Christians could also join Baptists going door-to-door in July to pass out 200,000 copies of the Book of Hope, a biblical sampler also distributed during Easter, organizers said Friday.
"This could be our coming-out party," said Queen, whose group represents about 50,000 Baptists, heavily concentrated on the South Side and in the southwest suburbs.
Queen said the gospel music-infused "Searchlight" gathering at Randolph and the lake may be dwarfed by the Taste of Chicago but will show outsiders "these are happy people having a good time."
An annual baptism celebration sponsored by a group of Uptown churches, dozens of Baptist block parties and other community projects are scheduled to precede evening prayer at the Lake Michigan gathering.
"Our hope is that on July 9, people will say those were good folks who came to bring a blessing to the city," said Phil Miglioratti, Strategic Focus Cities Coordinator for Chicago for the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Rev. Paul Rutgers, executive director of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago, previously expressed fears that non-Christians would be the target of evangelization efforts by Baptists this summer. The council now has "good assurances that whatever happens, there won't be any targeting of particular religious groups in the campaigns."
Ever since Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson publicly rejected Rutgers' request last Thanksgiving to cancel the initiative, the council has maintained contact with Queen. Patterson vowed to come to Chicago, but there has been no confirmation since then.
Rutgers said Chicago's religious leadership understands that the plans "are still unfolding" but that the "initial publicity was far beyond the reality."
Queen said final details for the public gathering will be worked out with the city in the coming weeks.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The annual meeting this week of the Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest Protestant denomination, may be as noteworthy for who won't be there as for who will.
Many moderate Baptists are shunning the two-day convention starting Tuesday. Some have been busy forming alternative fellowships, reacting to the denomination's conservative shift in recent years.
The year-old Mainstream Baptist Network has chapters in 12 states. The decade-old Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has 14 state and four regional chapters. And Jimmy Carter last year cut ties to the denomination, saying its "increasingly rigid" positions violated his faith.
The impact on the 15.9-million member Southern Baptist Convention is difficult to measure precisely, since many moderate congregations are keeping some ties with the SBC and donating to some of its missions.
"They're certainly a loss to our fellowship," said the Rev. William Merrell, an SBC spokesman. But the rift has also prompted those remaining with the convention to recommit to their faith, he said.
The conservative shift has included the SBC's declaration that wives should "submit graciously" to their husbands and the Bible is without error.
No one, not even the convention's most vocal critics, believes the powerful denomination has been hobbled. But each side has invested time and money making its case to fellow Baptists.
And the debate has been bitter.
Becky Bridges, a spokeswoman for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which last year voted to weaken ties with the denomination, said Southern Baptist leaders have been going church to church spreading lies that Texas moderates reject the Bible and support gay relationships.
Merrell said some Texas churches have invited SBC leaders to speak, but he denies they made such statements.
Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, issued a statement criticizing the denomination for mixing right-wing politics with religion. Parham said a deal the SBC's publishing division made this month with Oliver North to write a series of action novels is a small, but significant, sign of the trend.
"With the advent of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, the emphasis has crept in the direction of wanting to use the levers of state power to further a moral agenda," he said.
In the days leading up to this week's meeting, Baptist Press, the denomination's official news service, has carried lengthy stories touting the fealty of some Texas churches despite moderate control of the state convention, and denouncing ongoing criticism of last year's declaration that women should no longer serve as pastors.
The SBC said it expects more than 16,000 people to attend this year's meeting. The record high of 45,519 was set in 1985 in Dallas.
Among the speakers at the Louisiana Superdome gathering are James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family conservative Christian ministry, and the Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority.
David Currie, coordinator of Texas Baptists Committed, a group opposed to the SBC, is among many of the faithful who won't be there to hear them. Says Currie, "I don't go to non-Baptist meetings."