NEW YORK (ABP) — The Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant meeting will feature some notable guests: Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Tony Campolo and John Grisham, to name a few. But after the star-studded dust settles, what will emerge from the convocation?
Some say itâ€™s too soon to tell what exactly will come of the gathering, scheduled for Jan. 30-Feb. 1 in Atlanta. Organizers hope it will improve Baptistsâ€™ image and unite them in a new wave of social activism. Others wonder whether it will lead denominational bodies to work closer together or urge grassroots entities to band together — or both.
David Goatley, president of the North American Baptist Fellowship, an umbrella group for regional and national Baptist bodies, says heâ€™s optimistic about the eventâ€™s lasting effects. Baptists have never before attempted a collaborative effort on this scale, he noted — especially between historically Anglo and African-Americans organizations. â€œWhatever the results, itâ€™ll be worth the experiment,â€ Goatley said.
Detractors say the experiment is more of a political rally than anything else. With Clinton, Carter and other prominent Democrats featured during an election year, some Baptist conservatives have claimed the event is aimed at improving the Democratic Partyâ€™s image among Baptists.
It didnâ€™t help that the eventâ€™s most prominent Republican speaker, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, cancelled after Carter was quoted as sharply criticizing President Bush. Huckabee said he withdrew so he would not appear to approve of â€œwhat could be a political, rather than spiritual agenda,â€ he told the Florida Baptist Witness, a newspaper affiliated with the conservative Florida Baptist Convention.
Organizers say any political overtones are unintentional.Â