Baptists to blitz Chicago during conversion convention

That day, pairs and threesomes of Christians will "prayer walk," strolling down every street praying for the residents of the neighborhood, said the Rev. Phil Miglioratti, the Southern Baptist Convention's strategic focus cities coordinator for Chicago.

Last September in New York City, the denomination supported a conference, called "To the Jew First in the New Millennium: A Conference on Jewish Evangelism."

But Southern Baptist Convention officials promised in interviews that Jews would not be targeted for the missionizing.

"We're not targeting Jewish neighborhoods. We're targeting the whole city of Chicago," said Phil Roberts, a Southern Baptist Convention vice president. "If we go to a door and someone says, 'We're Jewish and don't want to hear anything,' then we're moving on."

"In all honesty, we have not discussed sending people with Jewish backgrounds to Jewish areas," Miglioratti said, of the Hebrew-Christians from area "Messianic" congregations they expect to work with. "We really don't have a Jewish strategy."

At least one local Jewish official is glad that few Jews are likely to be home that day.

"There could hardly be a better day to pick to have less success encountering Jews," said Jay Tcath, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago. "Hopefully many will be in synagogues, others on vacation and the youth will be in summer camp."

But another local Jewish leader warned the Baptists to stay away from a predominantly Jewish area on July 8.

"It would be reckless for the Baptists to come into West Rogers Park with big numbers on that date," Youdovin said.

Others are downplaying the threat that the Southern Baptist campaign poses.

"Sixteen million people aren't going to converge, take out their swords, and try and convert Jews," said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. "The reaction on the part of some Jews is creating an environment conducive to that interpretation."

Eckstein is president of the Chicago-based International Fellowship of Christians & Jews, which raises millions of dollars each year from evangelical Christians for the resettlement of Jews from the former Soviet Union in Israel and for other Jewish causes.

But after two decades of working with Southern Baptist leadership, he officially broke from them when they made public their plans last fall for targeted missionizing.

Still, he said, in terms of being converted during the Chicago campaign, "Jews don't have anything to worry about on the concrete side. But on the principle side, it shows just how far there is to go in the relationship."