Baptist Convention to target cults

January 23, 2000

BIRMINGHAM, January 23, 2000 - A new crusade will start in two weeks. Some members of the Southern Baptist Convention are planning a cult-awareness crusade starting early next month.

The North Carolina group's program begins February 8 and could target Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. A local Baptist minister who didn't want to be identified said he agreed with such a crusade. Several Mormon leaders say they weren't surprised and even welcome inquiries.

"We haven't heard things like that for a long time. They sort of died down. People used to say those things years ago," said Richard May with the Church of Latter Day Saints.

May says after 100 years, the Mormon church has moved beyond cult status.

"However people want to worship, that's fine. We feel we have the same rights as anyone. We welcome conversation and dialogue with anyone," said May.

An upcoming call for Baptists to convert what that church calls cult members is reminiscent of a similar crusade last fall to convert Jews.

"It shows a lack of understanding in knowing exactly what we believe in and who we worship," said Birmingham Mormon Mission President Perry Wells.

The local Baptist minister we spoke with said the Mormon church distorts Christian teachings and is, in essence, a cult. That's a charge Mormons are willing to debate.

"It would be important that we have an opportunity to welcome people into our homes. If they would like to visit with us, we'd love to share with them our beliefs about the savior," said Webb.

May says that's a discussion that might actually benefit his church members.

"There are probably lots of members of our church who are less active now, that it would be good, if they want to be active Baptists, that'd be good for them, so they're practicing religion better," said May.

No one from the Jehovah's Witnesses' congregations was available for comment Sunday. There is no indication that any local Baptists will join in the North Carolina group's formal crusade.

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