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Will Baptists stir up big news again?

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AND A BIG Salt Lake City welcome to the Southern Baptists, here for your national convention. Excellent choice.

On behalf of what I trust reflects the entire citizenry, let me say what a pleasure it is to have you here and add that you have already made history - the first convention ever to come to Salt Lake City and not complain about the liquor laws.Interesting that your stay is coinciding with the NBA Finals, meaning you've been sharing hotel space these past few days - smack in the middle of "witnessing weekend," as it's turned out - with the nation's sporting press.

Having been a sports writer in an earlier life, I am well aware of the contrast between the two groups. The sports media thinks Bourbon Street is on the conservative side.

I know it helped that the writers were coming back to their rooms when you were getting up.

But that guy with the green hair commuting from Las Vegas was not a sports writer. That was Dennis Rodman, a.k.a. "The Worm," who belongs to a sect or cult called the Chicago Bulls.

Witnessing alternately to Mormons, sports writers and Dennis Rodman. By the time you get back home, you will sure have some stories to tell. Where might it have been tougher? Mecca? Baghdad? Vatican City?

In the wake of what happened at the big Southern Baptist Convention last year in Dallas, everyone is especially interested in this year's activities, wondering if there will be any further bombshells along the lines of boycotting Disneyland.

Religious conventions aren't noted for grabbing headlines, but you changed that in Dallas when, after announcing the winners of the elections, and the new organ for the congregation in Augusta, Georgia, you cleared your throat and said, as meekly as possible, "Down with Disney."

The Disney company's friendly attitude toward gays and lesbians, including giving ABC the OK to produce "Ellen," had, in your opinion, gone too far. Nothing less than an outright boycott was deemed strong enough.

That was news!

To Disney, it meant 15 million fewer customers. To the rest of us, it meant 15 million fewer people in the line to ride The Indiana Jones Adventure.

Things for a Baptist to avoid: bar rooms, brothels, betting parlors, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

So now we're wondering, what's next? Hawaii? Universal Studios? The entire state of California? Pearl Jam?

By the way, while you're here you may want to visit Lagoon, our local amusement park. Lagoon does not, to anyone's knowledge, endorse the production of any TV sitcoms with alternate lifestyle themes, and it has a roller coaster called Colossus that favors those who ride sober.

Being, for the most part, populated by Christians, no one around here will be surprised by any old-fashioned Southern Baptist missionary zeal.

"Spreading the word" and "increasing the fold" is as common to all Christianity as turning the other cheek and arguing about the Trinity.

Each Christian church has its own approach for growth. The Catholic Church, with a membership over 1 billion, gets by fine primarily on birthrate and intermarrying alone, whereas organizations such as yours, with a membership of 15 million plus, as well as the predominant local church, the "Mormons," with 10 million plus, opt for the more aggressive approach of active missionaries and toll-free 800 numbers.

According to pre-convention scuttle, I've heard that one of the major objectives this week will be to launch a campaign ensuring that "every person in the world shall have the opportunity to hear the gospel of Christ by the year 2000" and that half a million people will be baptized Baptists in the millennial year.

Lofty goals, to be sure. Roger Williams would approve. Still, it would be nice if the convention comes up with something even more dramatic, more newsworthy, more man-bites-dog. Some religious news to put Salt Lake City on the map.