When thousands of Southern Baptists converge on Chicago and Phoenix this summer to share their personal faith in Jesus Christ, they will have a supporter in fellow Southern Baptist Charles Colson. "I have a very firm opinion on that matter," the noted evangelical author and founder of Prison Fellowship said. "I fully support the efforts of the Southern Baptist Convention as they pray for the conversion of Jews and Muslims."
"This is one of the fundamental commands of Jesus Christ to go into all the nations and preach the gospel and baptize," Colson added.
However, many religious and non-religious groups have accused Southern Baptists of intolerance and religious "bigotry." Schmuley Boteach, executive director of the Oxford L'Chaim Society, went so far as to categorize the Southern Baptist evangelism efforts as "spiritual racism."
Boteach unloaded that accusation during a heated discussion of SBC evangelism efforts on the nationally televised Larry King Show. Boteach appeared along with Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus.
Throughout the hour-long broadcast, a common question emerged concerning the rights and responsibilities of Southern Baptists to share their faith. For Colson, the answer to that question is simple. "Absolutely," he said. "Not only do we have a biblical mandate, but we have a constitutionally protected right to share our faith."
Colson said he watched the Larry King program and had absolute praise for the way Mohler conducted himself during the shouting match.
"I couldn't believe how composed Al Mohler was," Colson said. "These guys were ranting and raving at (Mohler) and he never lost his composure. There was one rabbi and the things he was saying had me throwing stuff at the television set."
"There is something interesting to observe here," Colson said. "We are the ones who are accused of ranting and raving, but if you look at that program it's hardly the case."
Colson said it is part of a media stereotype of evangelical Christians. "We are the only ones who are criticized for boycotting something. We are the only ones who are criticized for sharing our faith," he said.
"We have a big problem today because tolerance has been defined in such a way to make it intolerant."
Colson expressed concern about the precedent being set by the accusations about Southern Baptist intolerance. "If we were going to pass out materials in school, I could understand their concern," he said. "But to say I can't print a prayer guide? To say that I can't pray for someone's conversion? That's scary stuff. That's the thought police."
Colson said the responses shared by the rabbis during the Larry King Show are an example of "hysterical slandering" of the church and he said evangelical Christians shouldn't stand for it.
"We should not back down nor should we be intimidated," Colson said. "It is our responsibility to spread the gospel and to pray for the conversion of everyone, the Jew first and then the Gentile. We should not be deterred."
On another issue of recent controversy, Colson said Southern Baptists should continue their individual boycott of Walt Disney even if it doesn't affect the company. "And the reason I say that is because the boycott is the right thing to do," he said. "I still believe that the boycott is actually having an economic impact on the company."
Colson believes so strongly in the Southern Baptists' boycott, that he endorsed it in his most recent book, How Now Shall We Live. The book, which seeks to enunciate a Christian worldview in the face of America's moral collapse, has garnered strong reviews in the evangelical press.
"... I support their decision," Colson wrote, "for whether or not the boycott has a significant economic effect on Disney, it does serve an important educational function in the church and for the public at large. Until this boycott was publicized, many people - including many Christians - did not know that lurking behind Disney's family-friendly image is a secular, naturalistic philosophy hostile to Christianity.
"The company offers spousal benefits to employees' homosexual partners," Colson continued, "and its theme parks hold a special 'Gay Day.' Disney owns the Miramax film company, which has produced movies like Priest and Sirens, which viciously attack Christianity. Disney owns ABC, which openly celebrated homosexuality on its program Ellen and mocked Christianity in the sitcom Nothing Sacred.
"Parents may still decide to let their children watch Disney films or take their families to Disney World, but at least they should be aware of the anti-Christian worldview their children are being exposed to so they can deal with it appropriately."
In the end, Colson said Christians have a responsibility to stand up for their beliefs. "That doesn't mean we go around screaming at people," he said. "It means that we represent ourselves in a spirit of love. Be firm in our beliefs but do so in a spirit of love."