Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

New Baptist Covenant

nr-goatley-covenant.jpgFor readers who are fellow Baptists, mark your calendars: 30 January-1 February 2008 in Atlanta, there will be a major conference of Baptists from many different North American Baptist denominations–focused on increased cooperation in both evangelism and work for social justice, called the New Baptist Covenant.  [Name dropping: That’s Dr. David Goatley at the podium. I went to seminary and grad school with him and now he is Sec.-Treasurer of the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Society.  Others visible in that picture include former U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. I have met the former twice. End of name dropping. ]

The largest Baptist denomination in the world, the Southern Baptist Convention, has refused to have anything to do with the event, accusing planners of being political tools of the Democratic Party. This charge seems to stem from the roles that former U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton (both Baptists) played in getting this movement off the ground. Some SBC leaders have even suggested that, since the North Carolina primary for the 2008 presidential election is close in time to this conference, the conference is just a smokescreen to try to rally votes for Democratic presidential candidates, especially Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY).   This charge, however, is absurd on it’s face. Atlanta is in GEORGIA, not North Carolina.  None of the Democratic presidential candidates this time are Baptist:  Sen. Clinton is United Methodist and won’t be there; Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) is a member of the United Church of Christ; Former Sen. John Edwards, though raised Southern Baptist, has long been a United Methodist; Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH) is Roman Catholic, as are Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DL), Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), Former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK) and Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM).  The only POSSIBLE Democratic candidate for president in ’08 who is Baptist is former Vice President Al Gore (D-TN)–and he has not announced his candidacy and has not expressed any desire to come to this conference.  Even former Pres. Clinton’s presence at this conference is not assured.  The SBC charges are bizarre and without merit.

Keynote speakers for this New Baptist Covenant celebration include Pres. Carter, famed journalist Bill Moyers, and Marian Wright Edelman, founder and head of the Children’s Defense Fund.  Tentative themes for four (4) plenary sessions include, “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant,” “Unity in Bringing Good News to the Poor,” “Unity in Respecting Religious Diversity,” “Unity in Seeking Peace with Justice,” and “Unity in Welcoming the Stranger and Healing the Broken Hearted.” The focus on unity is welcome for a tradition, such as Baptists, that has a history of “multiplying by dividing” into numerous argumentative groups.  The New Baptist Covenant movement is not an attempt at merging our various denominations and conventions, but at working together across boundaries of race, ethnicity, national borders, and even theology in the mutual tasks of evangelism, defence of religious liberty and church/state separation, and promotion of social justice and peace.  Another purpose of this cooperative effort is to counter the negative image that many in the U.S. and around the world have of Baptists–an image drawn mostly from the SBC and independent fundamentalist Baptists.

Among the Baptist organizations that have already agreed to be represented are: The American Baptist Churches, USA; Baptist Center for Ethics; Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec; Baptist General Convention of Missouri; Baptist General Convention of Texas; Baptist General Association of Virginia; Baptist History and Heritage Society; Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty; Baptist Union of Western Canada; Baptist World Alliance; Baylor University; Buckner Children and Family Services; Canadian Baptist Ministries; Canadian Conference of Southern Baptist Churches (apparently wiser and less schismatic than their U.S. cousins); Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches; Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; General Association of General Baptists; Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Society (main foreign mission agency for many African American Baptists); Mainstream Baptists Network; Mercer University; National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.; National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.; National Missionary Baptist Convention of America; North American Baptist Conference, USA & Canada; North American Baptist Fellowship (regional body of the Baptist World Alliance); Progressive National Baptist Convention; Texas Baptists Committed.  Baptist media organizations that have been confirmed for publishing the event so far include:  Associated Baptist Press, Baptist Standard (of Texas), Ethics Daily (online journal of the Baptist Center for Ethics), and National Baptist Voice.

I’ve notice a few groups that have, so far, been overlooked whom I hope will be represented at this historic celebration. They include my denomination, the Alliance of Baptists (small, but a member of the National Council of Churches), the Seventh Day Baptist Conference, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB).  The potential of this event and movement is great and I commend the efforts of former presidents Clinton and Carter in facilitating this potential to heal longstanding divisions in this part of the Body of Christ.


April 13, 2007 - Posted by | Baptists

1 Comment

  1. How about a Bill Moyers – Barak Obama team for President/Vice President? Intelligence, experience, broad cultural experience, integrity — what else could you want?

    Comment by Tauratinzwe | April 13, 2007

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