Several Southern Baptists opposed the critical response of some fellow conservative leaders over a new Baptist initiative spearheaded by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
"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," said Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson, according to the Associated Baptist Press.
Carter and Clinton announced last week "The Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant" with leaders representing 20 million Baptists in North America. The initiative was launched to improve the "negative" Baptist image shaped by leaders representing "conservative political views and fundamentalist theology," according to Bill Underwood, president of Mercer University in Atlanta, and to demonstrate Baptist harmony, particularly through compassion works.
Leaders from the Southern Baptist Convention responded with a "reality check."
"Instead of engaging in a war of words, lets do a reality check, SBC President Frank Page told Baptist Press. "Word games are fine, but reality says Southern Baptists are presenting a positive life-changing message, impacting our culture with our ministries and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
SBC leaders, including Russell Moore, senior vice president for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., were critical of Baptists enlisting Clinton to create a new Baptist voice. Moore drew attention to Clinton's pro-choice and pro-homosexual agenda.
Other Southern Baptists, however, disagreed with the conservative vocal critics.
"Southern Baptists had better be careful when it comes to criticizing efforts to unite people of faith who seek social justice for the poor and oppressed," said Ben Cole, a leader of reform-minded conservatives, according to the Associated Baptist Press.
If not careful, then one pastor suggests silence.
"There comes a time when we as Southern Baptists should simply remain silent if we cannot say anything supportive of other Baptist attempts at addressing pressing social and cultural issues in a prophetic manner," said Burleson.
Cole did not argue the notion that the Baptist image has been painted largely by conservative leaders.
"The Southern Baptist Convention has gained a great deal of media attention in the last quarter-century, and our spokesmen have not always reflected with fairness the diversity of Baptist identity on issues of political or social importance," he said.
Many are not expecting a lot of Southern Baptists to attend the 2008 convocation where the "New Baptist Covenant" will officially launch with an expected participation of 20,000 Baptists in Atlanta.
Southern Baptist supporter David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., reasoned it to Carter's "harsh words" about Southern Baptists. Carter had spoken of an "evolution" within the SBC toward a "more rigid and strict creed that embodies the fundamentalist principles," in his book Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis.
"Unfortunately, the harsh words that President Carter has used on occasions about Southern Baptists since 2000 seem to me to make it hard for most Southern Baptists to join in these efforts with him," he said, according to ABP. "If this 'new covenant' effort is used of God to advance the gospel and to extend the kingdom of God, we should all give thanks to God."