Southern Baptists Were Welcomed to Carter Initiative, Says Baptist Leader

 A supporter of the initiative sponsored by former president Jimmy Carter to unite Baptists across racial and theological divides has denounced the claim that the effort is biased against the Southern Baptist Convention.

Bill Jones, associate executive director of the Texas Baptists Committed, told The Christian Post that the claim that the Southern Baptist Convention was not welcomed at the New Baptist Covenant was “inaccurate.”

“Were the SBC leaders given personal invitations? I don't know. Most people who attended were not given personal invitations,” said Jones.

“Though Southern Baptist Convention leaders were apparently not present, I know you will find that many who attended the meetings in Atlanta and across the country, and viewed it over the Web from their homes, are members of Southern Baptist churches.”

Jones, who was active in the planning phases of the Covenant in 2007, mentioned that a Southern Baptist minister, Wade Burleson of Oklahoma, met with former president Jimmy Carter during that time and spoke at a Covenant event later on.

The New Baptist Covenant II event took place in Atlanta last week. Its theme centered on what participants called “the Luke 4 mandate,” which focused on fulfilling the words spoken by Jesus in Luke 4:18-19:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The New Baptist Covenant was not without its critics. Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, took issue with the Covenant back in 2008 during its first major conference.

“This event is absurdly political,” said Land in a radio broadcast. “They are laying out this whole liberal social agenda.”

“Ninety-five percent of the people that are at that gathering have never voted for a Republican in their lives. So much for nonpartisanship.”

In response to the meeting that was convened earlier this month, Mark Tooley of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, said it was an effort to rally “liberal Baptists.”

“This Carter-led effort seems to want Baptists to become like liberal Episcopalians or the United Church of Christ,” said Tooley in an earlier statement.

“But churches that follow that disastrous path of substituting liberal politics for the Gospel always spiral in membership and vitality.”

David Key, director of the Baptist Studies program at Emory University's Candler School of Theology, is a spokesman for the New Baptist Covenant.

“We hope on the grassroots level that relationships can be forged in as many ways as possible. Once Baptists get to know each other personally, barriers do come down,” said Key to The Christian Post.

Key clarified that the NBC does not seek “to create one Baptist structure” but instead to “gather Baptists across denominational and racial lines to address issues of importance to American life.”

In response to those who believe NBC II to be an effort to make the Baptist denomination more theologically liberal, Key said that the focus of the meeting in Atlanta was biblical in nature.

“We stayed true to the Luke 4 mandate throughout the event. The only way one would view us as liberal is if they think the words of Jesus are liberal,” said Key.

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