New Baptist Covenant Convention Starts Today

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 it’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 Baptists’ 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 he’s optimistic about the event’s lasting effects. Baptists have never before attempted a collaborative effort on this scale, he noted — especially between historically Anglo and African-Americans organizations. “Whatever the results, it’ll be worth the experiment,” 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 Party’s image among Baptists.

It didn’t help that the event’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 “what could be a political, rather than spiritual agenda,” he told the Florida Baptist Witness, a newspaper affiliated with the conservative Florida Baptist Convention.

Organizers say any political overtones are unintentional. 

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