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I’m beginning to accept that, as the millennium draws to a close, we
as citizens are cultivated pretty much like mushrooms — kept in the
dark and fed large quantities of steaming-hot fertilizer. What I didn’t
expect was that those engaged in the cultivation process would come to
the cave as wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing, all the while claiming
to be our spiritual shepherds.

Chicago is deservedly known as the “windy city,” but not all of its
storms originate over Lake Michigan. A goodly number of them are
manufactured in city hall. And more recently, it would seem, the city’s
religious leaders have joined in Chicago’s native political dances,
hoping to frighten away an impending convention of Southern Baptists.
You might think that — in a city having more than its share of crooked
politicians and plagued with dead people who rise from the grave every
year or two and vote for them — not much would spook those firmly
anchored in their faith. Think again.

The Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago has urged
the Baptists to go elsewhere. Claiming to represent 40 mainline
denominations, the group has already experienced enough of the fear of
God to suggest that the Baptists’ presence “could contribute to a
climate conducive to hate crimes.”

Excuse me? In a city awash with murders, rapes, robberies, shootings,
drugs, assaults and batteries, and whose power structure is built upon
sectarian political and racial bickering, the Council is worried about
Baptists converging to incite the city’s criminals to commit hate
crimes? Perhaps if the Council is so worried about hate crimes they
should invest some time and effort in teaching Chicago’s children the
Ten Commandments and “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Another spokesman for the Council, Bishop Sprague of the United
Methodist Church’s Northern Illinois Conference, who oversees 425
churches, worried that Southern Baptists speaking about their faith in
the windy city “smacks of a kind of non-Jesus-like arrogance. … I am
always fearful when
we in the Christian community move beyond the rightful claim that Jesus
is decisive for us, to the presupposition that non-Christians … are
outside God’s plan for salvation.”

In fact, Bishop, non-Christians are not outside of God’s plan for
salvation. They’re right smack dab in the middle of it — along with
you. Jesus laid it out quite clearly on His way back home, after He’d
experienced a major hate crime on the Cross. You can read it at the very
end of Matthew’s account of his life with the Master. Here’s a modern
translation by Eugene Peterson in her book, “The Message”:

    Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God
    authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone
    you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in
    the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in
    the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do
    this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

Perhaps the bishop has forgotten this small detail in the
rarefied atmosphere he has ascended into, as head over those 425
churches. In the Dec. 3 article, “Is Christianity a Hate Crime?” by Frank York,
the Bishop told WorldNetDaily that he was concerned the unity between
Protestants, Catholics and Jews in Chicago during the past few years
would be upset by such activities. York writes, “Sprague makes it clear
that traditional Christian evangelism is not acceptable or welcome. ‘We
are not interested in their coming to proselytize or to suggest, however
well intentioned, that Jews, Hindus, or others are second class.’”

“Second class” is a clever fiction; it gives the impression of
arriving at the same destination, although perhaps in a bit less comfort
than first class. Yet God seems to identify only two classes of people:
those who know Him, and those who do not. The destination of the second
class is rather different than that of the first. Another quote from
Eugene Peterson, paraphrased from the Book of Revelation:

    I saw a Great White Throne and the One Enthroned. Nothing could
    stand before or against the Presence, nothing in Heaven, nothing on
    earth. And then I saw all the dead, great and small, standing there –
    before the Throne! And books were opened. Then another book was opened:
    the Book of Life. The dead were judged by what was written in the books,
    by the way they had lived. Sea released its dead, Death and Hell turned
    in their dead. Each man and woman was judged by the way he or she had
    lived. Then Death and Hell were hurled into the Lake Fire. This is the
    second death — Lake Fire. …

If what John saw when he wrote that had stopped there, Bishop,
I’d be with you. Unity is important. Standing together against those who
grind up the poor to sprinkle on their power breakfasts, who rip off
single mothers, deprive children of a chance in life, or despise the
stranger and the fatherless is important; in fact, it’s God’s direct
command throughout much of the Bible.

Yet we both know that the apostle John’s vision didn’t end where I
left off the quote, don’t we? There is one more sentence, but it’s one
that changes everything. Sometimes it even upsets the unity applecart.
Let me quote it for you: “Anyone whose name was not found inscribed in
the Book of Life was hurled into Lake Fire.”

There are no second-class citizenships in heaven, Bishop. In the New
Testament, Jesus is pretty explicit about where the first class tickets
come from. He’s the Ticketmaster. Perhaps the discomfort you feel at the
impending presence of all those Baptists has something to do with not
telling the whole truth to the windy city’s citizens? Personally, I
can’t think of a greater gift of love for those “second class citizens”
you’re worried about becoming disunited than the good news that God
wants them to become a part of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. It could
bring real unity to your city. If it takes 100,000 Baptists for the wind
of the Holy Spirit to blow across Chicago, I say, “bring ‘em on!”

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