TRACT vs. TACT
For the state's predominant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Olympics' officially sanctioned religious consortium, the ecumenical Interfaith Roundtable, the answer has been a resounding "no."
However, several evangelical and fundamentalist Christian groups see the Games as a world-class opportunity to share the gospel that cannot be left untapped. Their witnessing outreaches may be banned inside Olympic venues, but they still plan to share their salvation messages near Games sites and in downtown Salt Lake City.
The Southern Baptists, for example, are sponsoring Global Outreach 2002, a campaign aimed at bringing more than 1,000 volunteers from churches throughout the nation to Salt Lake City.
There is no doubt that legion aims to win souls, said the Rev. Tim Clark of the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention. Still, he said volunteers are being trained in "a more gentle approach" than exercised by church members who came to Utah in 1998 for their denomination's convention.
Four years ago, 12,000 Southern Baptists -- preceded by release of a video, "The Mormon Puzzle," questioning the LDS Church's Christian bona fides -- hit Salt Lake City. Two-thousand were dispatched on a massive campaign of door-to-door evangelism.
Along with subsequent reports of hundreds of "decisions for Christ," there were also a few accounts -- some making the TV news -- of heated doorstep doctrinal disputes.
This time around, door-to-door evangelism will give way to an approach that "is not quite so confrontational," Clark said.
Southern Baptist volunteers will emphasize hospitality, setting up heated canteens near venuesin Park City and Ogden -- and at the church-run Main Street Coffee House, 149 S. Main -- to provide water, hot chocolate and warmth.
Volunteers also will distribute an Interactive Pocket Guide, which contains maps of Olympic venues along with testimonies of Christian athletes; an Olympic-themed New Testament; and trading pins bearing the phrase, "More Than Gold."
"Someone coming here may discover they can receive something far more valuable than the gold medallions athletes will wear, and that is hope in Christ," Taylor said.
Meantime, the Salt Lake-based Utah Games Coalition -- an organization of more than 40 mostly evangelical Protestant churches -- has focused on providing suggestions to would-be ministers on how best to witness to Utah's Mormon majority, which nominally constitutes 70 percent of the 2.2 million population.
In partnership with the Salt Lake Theological Seminary, the Coalition (www.utahgames.org) has produced a five-part video training series. "Bridges: Helping Mormons Discover God's Grace," stresses acceptance and understanding of the LDS culture as a key to successful witnessing.
"Our purpose was to offer those coming to Salt Lake City a model of evangelism that would communicate the Good News in ways that sounded like good news to Latter-day Saints," said seminary president Ken Mulholland.
While no LDS missionaries will be proselytizing on the streets, that does not mean the faith will be invisible. Indeed, what visitors and Olympic spectators see may be Mormonism's most effective witness.
The Mormon Tabernacle is scheduled for Friday's Opening Ceremony, and when the gold, silver and bronze medals are award each night, it will be with the historic Mormon Temple rising in the background.
People will be curious, and Mormon leaders are counting on that.
"We're as anxious as anyone to see that these Games are really the Games of the Salt Lake Olympics, the Games of the United States Olympics," Bruce L. Olsen, the church's managing director of public affairs, said in a recent interview. "If people come to us, we'll answer their questions."
Members of the Interfaith Roundtable, a council of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and a variety of other clerics, diplomatically avoid saying much about either the LDS Church's off- venue plans, or the open evangelism some churches may be planning for Salt Lake City.
"It won't be a distraction," added the Rev. Silvia Behrend, a Unitarian minister overseeing the Roundtable's 32-member chaplain corps. "Our focus is entirely going to be chaplains to the athletes. And the essence of being a chaplain is to always uphold the other person's religious tradition, not your own."
Chairwoman Jan Saeed, a member of the Baha'i faith, said the coalition also will concentrate on ecumenical services and facilitating worship needs of all religions.
"We're here to serve their needs, not ours," Saeed said. "That is the attitude and the atmosphere we hope to create at the Athletes Village and venues -- love an acceptance of all humanity . . . you don't push your beliefs on anyone."
©Copyright 2002, The Salt Lake Tribune