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

Huckabee Withdraws–From the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant.

As both Bruce Prescott and Melissa Rogers have noted, the Florida Baptist Witness is reporting that former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR), an ordained Southern Baptist minister and a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. president in ’08, has noisily withdrawn his participation in the upcoming Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant. This event, largely organized by former U.S. Pres. Jimmy Carter (D), arguably the most famous Baptist layperson in the U.S., is to bring long-divided groups of Baptists together in common work for the Rule of God. Huckabee had been scheduled to be one of the speakers. I am not a fan of Huckabee’s politics and oppose his presidential ambitions, but I had thought that he was personally a good guy and I was pointing to his participation in this event as a good sign.

 Now, Huckabee has withdrawn and his reasons are quite disturbing.  1) He claims to have withdrawn because Jimmy Carter, in an interview, claimed that George W. Bush’s foreign policy was the worst of any president in U.S. history, including Nixon’s.  Why is this a reason for withdrawing from an event that isn’t about politics, much less about Bush? Carter has been known for his blunt speech for decades, including about members of his own party (e.g., Ted Kennedy, the late Tip O’Neill).  If Huckabee only wants to meet with Baptists who admire the current president, then he’s going to have a hard time meeting anyone outside the Southern Baptist Convention. One would be hard pressed, for example, to find many African-American Baptists who are big Bush fans. Does Huckabee never want to meet with these sisters and brothers?  If loyalty to a political party is a “test of Christian fellowship,” then the only word to describe the phenomenon is “idolatry.” I have worshipped in congregations that had elected officials from across the political spectrum (not to mention the rest of us who aren’t in elected office). Has Huckabee never done this?  Is this some new version of the twisted “homogeneity” principle used by some church growth theorists–in direct contradiction to the New Testament’s message of reconciliation between various classes, races, language groups, both genders, etc.??

2) Huckabee’s other reason for withdrawing from the Covenant event is even more disturbing. He claims that he cannot appear on the same program as Marian Wright Edelman, founder and head of the Childrens’ Defense Fund, the foremost, independent, grassroots advocacy agency for the wellbeing of children.  Huckabee claims that Edelman’s presence as a speaker is “evidence of the extreme liberalism” of the event. Huh?  This is confusing on several levels.

A. As Bruce Prescott asks, since when is trying to seek justice and wellbeing of children either “liberal” or “conservative?” Does this mean that Huckabee’s much vaunted pro-life credentials stop when children are born? For crying out loud, even G.W. Bush adopted (I’ll not say “stole”) the CDF’s “Leave No Child Behind” slogan when he created his “No Child Left Behind” education law (which leaves MANY children behind, but that’s a different issue).  Isn’t it a BASIC principle of biblical faith, which surely any ordained minister must know, that children (along with widows and other vulnerable people) are a test of a just and caring community?  Did Huckabee somehow miss all that the Bible says about protecting children?  Why would he put down Edelman’s work–work which has led to 3 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize??

B.  Suppose, for a second, that Edelman is a “liberal” in either politics (which would not be surprising since she was a Civil Rights activist in college before becoming one of the first African-American women to graduate from Yale Law School) or theology. (How would he know anything about her theology? She hasn’t written on it and I doubt Huckabee shows up at Edelman’s church much.)  Isn’t the very purpose of this meeting for Baptists to cross dividing boundaries of race, region, history, culture, worship-style, and YES, divisions of political and theological conviction in order to find common ground as sisters and brothers in the Lord? Did Huckabee imagine that only “conservatives” (however he defines the term) would be at a meeting designed to get past such divisions??

Bruce Prescott speculates that Huckabee’s real reason for withdrawing as a speaker and participant is because the leadership of the SBC (which opposes the meeting) has pressured him to do so.  That may be it. Or it may be that some campaign guru has told him that he cannot afford to be seen with the likes of Carter and Edelman if he wants any shot at the G.O.P. nomination. Both are pretty sorry excuses, in my view.

Will other Republican politicians who had planned to come to the Covenant, such as Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), now back out, too? Will the conservative SBC Bloggers who met with Carter and planned to come, now retreat?  Will either denominational or national politics trump the “ties that bind” sisters and brothers in Christ?  It’s happened before, but I know it breaks God’s heart every time.

My respect for Mike Huckabee as a person of faith and integrity (whatever our differences in theology or politics), just plummeted to the basement.

May 22, 2007 Posted by | Baptists, scandal, sin | 10 Comments