Although there are several different sects that go by the name Baptist, one former U.S. president is attempting to create a unified voice for Baptists across the country.
Georgian native Jimmy Carter convened a major meeting of several Baptist groups at an event in Atlanta for an initiative he developed called the New Baptist Covenant.
The three day event, titled “The New Baptist Covenant II,” featured several speakers and issues, concluding their proceedings last Saturday.
In his speech before those gathered at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church and those watching via streaming video, Carter stressed the need for unity.
As the creator of the New Baptist Covenant, Carter sought to make “a positive, non-exclusive program of sharing the Gospel of Christ” that lacked “the legalistic interpretation of Scripture.”
The New Baptist Covenant has a three-fold mission that involves creating “an authentic and prophetic Baptist voice,” emphasizing “traditional Baptist values, including sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” and the promotion of various social causes like feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and protecting religious diversity.
While some hailed the meeting as giving different Baptists one common voice, others, like Mark Tooley of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, took issue with the Atlanta gathering.
“Usually preoccupied with issuing anti-Israel bromides or apologizing to dictators for America's sins, Carter is once again rallying liberal Baptists,” said Tooley in a recently released statement.
“While New Baptist Covenant claims to unite Baptists around shared values, the primary call seems to be animus towards the more conservative Southern Baptist Convention.”
Tooley believes that Carter seeks to make the Baptist denomination more progressive, similar to the mainline Protestant denominations.
“Churches are always healthier when they remain faithful to their historic beliefs and exercise caution in their political pronouncements, not presuming always to know God's will on specific legislation and policies,” said Tooley.
“Hopefully most Baptists will not be seduced into this rehash of the old-time Social Gospel.”
Of the 30 Baptist organizations that are part of the New Baptist Covenant, absent from the list is the largest Baptist group, the Southern Baptist Convention.
In 2009, Carter made headlines when after 60 years of being a Southern Baptist he decided to sever ties with the SBC over their refusal to ordain female clergy.
“So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult,” wrote Carter in a widely syndicated column.
“It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be ‘subservient’ to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.”
The New Baptist Covenant II was held in Atlanta, Ga., from Thursday, Nov. 17, to Saturday, Nov. 19.
Other featured speakers included Carroll Baltimore, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, and Tony Campolo, founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education.