Friday, January 12, 2007

Carter, Clinton Join to Reshape Baptist Image; Will it Work?

"Baptists from across North America will convene in Atlanta early next year to emphasize their compassion rather than the racial, theological and social conflict that has divided them for decades." What should we make of this announced convocation, led by former President Jimmy Carter with a “cheerleading” boost from former President Bill Clinton?

Some on the left were quick to hail the announced gathering, expected to draw upwards of 20,000 Baptists. Even Dr. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary of the ABCUSA, placed the assembly in the context of denominational splintering:

“There is a cry for healing,” said Medley. Baptists coming together could encourage American Baptists soured by their denomination’s fragmentation over homosexuality, Medley said.

“For a lot of our young people, they are very disenchanted at the church breaking apart and splintering,” Medley continued. “This is a chance for us to reach out to them and say this ideal of love that Christ has given us is something that we really want to be operative in the life of the church as well. And that can help us bridge differences that are genuine differences.”

Southern Baptist leaders were generally quick to jump to the opposite conclusion. In an editorial in Baptist Press, the SBC's communications arm, seminary dean Russell Moore called the Carter-Clinton effort "voodoo ecumenism."

"The unity of which news reports speak is a unity based on social action and ethical engagement," said Moore, theology dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. "Even apart from questions of [Clinton's] personal ethics and about the long-ago debates over alleged high crimes and misdemeanors, what about the official social agenda of the former president? This is, after all, a man who vetoed legislation protecting unborn infants from partial-birth abortion, and then blamed his abortion-rights ideology on what he says he learned from his former pastor at a Little Rock Southern Baptist congregation."

SBC blogger Jerry Grace was even more direct. "To be consistent, I despise both of these men," Grace wrote Jan. 11 on "Jimmy Carter may be the most na├»ve man on the planet…. Bill Clinton is far smarter than that, with every word coming out of his mouth either designed to promote his need for power or to pick up women."

"None of us need to speculate about its content," Grace said of the New Baptist Covenant, a statement based on Jesus' compassion agenda in Luke 4. "It will be a reflection of the Democratic Party platform designed to promote other great religious leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to deliver the black vote to Hillary Clinton, that torchbearer of maternal virtue and humble leadership."

So what do we make of the upcoming meeting? While I am certainly no fan of either former president, Clinton for his obvious failures and Carter for his self-righteous disdain for anyone more conservative than himself, it is difficult to fault this initiative. SBC blogger Wade Burleson seemed to sound the right note when he wrote: "it would be difficult for me to criticize any evangelical Christian movement whose stated goals are to live out the gospel through doing justice and loving mercy."

In the final analysis, the effectiveness of the effort will relate to how effectively the gathering captures the spiritual power of so many diverse Baptists. If, however, the agenda devolves to a partisan platform, it will be readily dismissed.

“If this is seen as a Democratic agenda, that won’t benefit any of us,” said ABC’s Medley. “And if it doesn’t do the pan-Baptist thing, then it will have failed. I hope we do have conservative folk there, as well as progressive and moderate folk. Regardless of where we may be in political parties and things like that, these are things that we’re committed to as the body of Christ, and that agenda is larger than a political agenda.”

1 comment:

Rev. said...

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