There is no doubt that an event with the name “Baptist” attached to it, and the names Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Al Gore also attached to it, would attract a lot of attention.  I’ve been told that the reason for the last three being involved is precisely for that purpose.  It worked.  Not only did it attract a lot of attention, it created a lot of controversy.  You weren’t surprised by that either, were you? 

There are a number of individuals from the BGCT that are involved on the committees of the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant.  It is difficult to explain to those not familiar with the Baptist way of doing things that their presence there does not constitute either an “official” relationship between the Celebration and the BGCT, nor does it constitute an endorsement of the Celebration by the BGCT.  The publicity for the Celebration is careful to describe the relationships with its partnering organizations as an “informal alliance.”  However, it is reasonable to think that these individuals are participating out of a sense of commonality of purpose and a desire for Baptist unity around the stated causes, including sharing the gospel and its implications for public and private morality, peace with justice, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick and marginalized, welcoming the strangers, promoting religious liberty and respect for religious diversity. 

It is also reasonable to raise questions about potential secular political implications, given the prominence of two former Presidents and a former Vice-President, all three Democrats, in the Celebration leadership and on the program.  It is reasonable to ask questions about whether “welcoming the stranger” is a veiled reference to endorsing illegal immigration, or whether “respect for religious diversity,” a broad and general phrase, means that there are other ways to have a relationship with God besides Christ.  The reasonable response from supporters of the Celebration would be to answer the questions truthfully and honestly, and not by hostile attacks accusing those with questions of “mischaracterizing” the event. 

In all fairness, there is an appearance that this event involves a majority of Baptists on the left.  That would be my conclusion without hesitation.  Is there anything wrong with that?  Absolutely not.  But there are difficulties that have arisen out of the perception that the BGCT’s leadership has jumped into this with both feet, and has not considered the fact that many of its churches, especially those that do not lean to the left, might object to what looks like wholehearted participation.  I do not believe it has been made abundantly clear that there is no formal tie between the Celebration and the BGCT, and that the participation of BGCT leaders in this event does not constitute an endorsement of it by all of the churches in the BGCT.  I’m also not really sure that the BGCT leaders who are participating in this have considered all of the implications that might arise out of their involvement.  To say that the concerns of conservative Baptists in the BGCT related to the political and religious implications that may arise out of the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant are unfounded is just not accurate. 

The concerns about secular political implications arising out of the involvement of Carter, Clinton and Gore are absolutely legitimate.  These individuals have taken positions that are well known and highly controversial.  That’s the nature of secular politics.  It’s also no secret that many Baptists, probably a majority of those in the BGCT, do not fall on the same side of the aisle in terms of their perspective.  The presence of a couple of Republican Senators on the program for “balance” doesn’t achieve that.  This is a legitimate concern. 

There are Baptist organizations and individuals involved in the Celebration who are from the far left side of the Baptist theological spectrum, in some cases uncomfortably so.  R. Kirby Godsey, former Mercer University president, authored a book entitled When We Talk About God…Let’s Be Honest,” in which he questions the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus, the Bible as the “Word of God,” and in which he expresses universalist views.  I have the book, and I’ve read it, and he does.  Godsey is on the finance committee of the Celebration.  Bill Moyers, who puts the New Testament teaching about Christ in the same category as myths about Moses, Mohammed and Buddha, is on the communications committee.  These individuals are entitled to their views, and equally entitled to express them, but it should also be expected that questions would be raised by putting them in key leadership positions of a Baptist gathering.  I would have a difficult time explaining to the people in my church why I agreed to serve alongside someone who believes in universal salvation, or that the virgin birth or New Testament is myth.  I think, as members of churches that contribute to the BGCT, we are entitled to ask that question of Charles Wade, Joy Fenner, Steve Vernon, John Lilley, David Nabors, Albert Reyes, Mark Wingfield, and other BGCT leaders and employees who are participating in the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant.  And please hear me, I am NOT accusing them of believing in universal salvation or that the virgin birth is a myth.  I just want to hear from them why they feel they can participate in a Baptist covenant gathering with individuals who do. 

My advice to those in the BGCT who are involved in this event is to proceed with caution, and do not give the appearance that your presence and involvement in the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant is representation of the Baptist General Convention of Texas as a body.  You did not ask the convention for their endorsement or affirmation of your participation.  There is clearly opposition from individual churches to being associated with this event.  Respect them. 

Why?

Because one Baptist does not speak for all Baptists, or for any other Baptist.  Because you are steeped in historic, traditional Baptist principles and you respect dissent and disagreement, and love your brothers and sisters who dissent and disagree. 

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About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

18 responses

  1. Kaylor says:

    Lee: At one point you characterized your comments as being “[i]n all fairness.” Yet, you do not always follow that model. You give substantial attention to Carter, Clinton, and Gore and yet basically pass over Senators Chuck Grassley and Lindsay Graham. You claim they do not balance out the others. They certainly don’t in the way your wrote it as you didn’t even list their names (what happened to the concern for balance?). What Baptist Republican ex-president or vice-president do you suggest they invite? Oh wait, there is none. It is unfortunate that such individuals do not exist to have as a part of this historic event. The effort was made to balance it as best as possible, but Baptists just haven’t gotten higher than U.S. Senator in the Republican Party lately. That cannot be blamed on the Celebration planners.

    You also give a lot of attention to Godsey (who is not a plenary speaker) and Moyers but leave out many of the other preachers for the event (including some with Texas Baptist connections). Why is that? Because they do not support your argument? Or why ignore the groups that will be participating that are just as–if not more–conservative than most Southern Baptists? Is that because you don’t want facts to get in the way of your argument? Yes, liberals will be there but it will not be just liberals or moderates but also conservatives.

    Your guilt-by-association tactic is illogical. Just because some people will be a part of this that hold different views does not mean everyone involved accepts those. Your last paragraph is exactly right that no Baptist speaks for others. Yet, the rest of your post was an attempt to make it seem that these liberal Baptists would speak for all. You ask how BGCT leaders could attend an event with people who belive differently. Perhaps your last paragraph answers that. Why not give to others the same respect you ask for?

    I share with you a concern that Baptists–at the Celebration or elsewhere–should not associate themselves with either party. We should not sponsor partisan rallies and if this were to become one then I would be among the first to complain. However, your guilt-by-association attacks and unsubstantiated claims have not proven such. It is not billed as a political rally. The stated objectives are clearly religious and historically Baptist in nature. Thus, your claims about the Celebration seem much stronger stated than can be justified.

    The Celebration may not be perfect but at least it is an attempt to bring unity and healing to Baptists across North America. At least those involved should be commended for trying. I truly hope you will consider attending the Celebration and would look forward to meeting you there.

  2. Lee says:

    My point is that the BGCT leaders who are involved in the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant need to be very careful, and take into consideration, the fact that a significant number of their constituency has legitimate concerns about the perception that will be created by their involvement. Convincing people that Bill Clinton and Al Gore are involved in something that is “attempting to bring unity and healing to Baptists across North America” is a tough proposition.

    There is no “guilt by association” here. I have not pointed out that the BGCT leaders who are participating in the Celebration either accept the politics of Carter, Clinton and Gore, or the theology of Godsey and Moyers. I’m saying that they need to be careful not to create the impression that the BGCT as a convention is solidly behind this effort, and they need to take the opportunity, as you have done on several occasions, to tell us about their own perceptions, and motivations for being involved.

    If you want true Baptist unity, the feelings of all Baptists must be considered, and the perceptions of all Baptists must be satisfied. It will be hard to listen to lectures on Baptist unity from the leadership of the BGCT, who is enthusiastically participating in the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, but still refuses to allow Southwestern Seminary an exhibit booth at their convention.

  3. JMatthews says:

    I’ve read and watched Bill Moyers a number of times. Please tell me how his views are representative in any way, shape or form, of any kind of Baptist belief.

  4. JMatthews,

    Tell me how Bill Moyers is not a Baptist?

    If the Baptist tradition has room for both Jesse Jackson and Jesse Helms, I’m pretty sure we got room for Bill Moyers.

    As a side note, Moyers has closely followed Baptist life for 40 years. He’s written extensively about Baptists, dedicated televised coverage to Baptists and spoken to Baptists young and old for decades. Moyers is a Baptist hero to many – a SWBTS alum too, a TB Maston boy.

    Lee, if the BGCT is not officially participating in the upcoming Celebration then why all the concern over those Texas Baptists who have volunteered their time and energy to make this event a success? Surely they as individual Baptists can do as they please? I’m willing to bet that there are many great Texans who have sat on the boards of so-called liberal advocacy organizations. Must they remember their constituency before accepting a board post with the Texas Freedom Network, Americans United, or any other group?

    If those folks you listed aren’t attending the event on the BGCT’s dime – then what’s the deal?

    I’m baffled that you are advocating that the Architect of the Fundamentalist Takeover be allowed a booth at the annual meeting of the BGCT. Unity is impossible with fundamentalists, history tells us that much.

    The only way to cooperate with a fundamentalist is to obey him….

    A true statement indeed.

  5. J Bonner says:

    I share similar concerns that Lee has over the “unofficial” participation of prominent BGCT members/leaders in this “Celebration.” I hope that this Covenant is really serious about their stated goals, but they will have to go a long way to prove to me (ordinary church-going sinner) that they are not a political front for the religous left.

    Thanks to Lee for a great blog on this subject.

  6. J Bonner says:

    Big Daddy Weave wrote:

    “I’m baffled that you are advocating that the Architect of the Fundamentalist Takeover be allowed a booth at the annual meeting of the BGCT.Unity is impossible with fundamentalists, history tells us that much.”

    In one sentence, you are upset that Lee wants a Fundamentalist on a BGCT committee, and then in the next, you tell us that Unity is impossible because of them.

    Seems like a kettle and pot scenario to me.

  7. Ken Coffee says:

    “…we are entitled to ask that question of Charles Wade, Joy Fenner, Steve Vernon, John Lilley, David Nabors, Albert Reyes, Mark Wingfield, and other BGCT leaders and employees who are participating in the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant. ”

    Can anyone assure us that the BGCT or one of its agencies will NOT be paying travel expenses for this meeting?” If the BGCT or one of its agencies does pay their expenses, isn’t that a defacto show of convention support?

  8. Lee says:

    Those who support the Celebration talk a lot about Baptist unity, though even they drew some lines regarding who they allowed into the leadership circle, excluding groups like the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB), and the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA) because of their pro-gay stance. The Alliance of Baptists is also conspicuously absent from the committee and partnership lists, probably because exclusing the prior two groups is unconscionable to them. BDW says that unity is not possible where fundamentalists are involved, which is at least as much of a statement of judgement as any criticism made by conservatives, and certainly beyond anything I’ve stated in this post. So it appears there are some supporters of the Celebration who are not necessarily on board with Baptist unity.

    There is always disagreement over how to define “Baptist” in a general sense. Buddy Shurden says it is in the practice of what he calls the “four freedoms.” Conservatives say it is in general agreement on basic core doctrine. Personally, I believe the definition falls completely within the context of the definition of Christianity first, and that is defined not just by the teachings of Jesus, and the interpretations of them found in the New Testament writings, but also by the nature and person of who Jesus claimed to be. John 1:1-18, John 8:58 and Colossians 1:15-23 are among the references to that. So I think to be a Baptist, you must be a Christian first, since that is what defines the movement. Does that answer your question, JMatt? Moyers, by his own testimony, denies the nature and person of Jesus as the Christ, and relegates those three references in the New Testament to myth. He may have been raised in a Baptist church, followed Baptist life for 40 years, educated in a Baptist seminary and studied under T.B. Maston, but that doesn’t make him a Baptist. I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Maston, and hearing him speak about a year before he died, and while he was certainly one of the most progressive Baptists of his day, he would not have agreed with Moyer’s current stated position on the nature and person of Jesus. Unless Moyers has backed off of his position that Jesus was not divine, and that the statements in the New Testament supporting that position are “myths” of the same nature as those surrounding Moses, Mohammed and Buddha, he is not a Baptist.

  9. JMatthews says:

    Just curious, but if the participation in the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant by the BGCT had been put up for a vote, and Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Al Gore mentioned as chief organizers and prominent speakers in the plenary sessions, do you think it would have passed?

  10. Kaylor says:

    Lee: If this was the left-wing event you paint it out to be then why have the Alliance and other groups been left out? This makes it clear that your claims are not supported by the facts.

  11. Lee says:

    The Alliance, BPFNA and AWAB have been left out because being an advocate for GLBT issues is not politically expedient. The African-American groups involved, particularly the two National Baptist Conventions, are on the record as being politically to the left. The other Baptist groups involved have leadership from the theological middle to the left. If this isn’t a “political” gathering, then why exclude those groups, especially if it is about Baptist unity? That’s not unifying, that’s divisive.

    You’re a good advocate for this event, Kaylor, they owe you a debt of gratitude. But you are just as good at passing over the liberal and political agendas of prominent participants as you accuse me of being in passing over the token personalities invited to arrest the perception that this is a gathering of the political/religious left.

    I’ve put my conference budget this year into Dwight McKissic’s Holy Spirit conference, Willow Creek’s small groups conference, the SBC and the BGCT. The Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant came in as a low priority, especially in my determination of its value to provide practical instruction and inspiration for my ministry. Tony Campolo and Joel Gregory are the only two preachers in the plenary session that would have attracted my interest in practical terms, and I have their books. I can follow this on live blogs and media reports. If I am not mistaken, there will be a pod-cast. I would definitely like to meet you sometime, though, and lunch or dinner when we do is my treat. I’ll be in Eastern Missouri two or three times this spring and summer, so maybe then.

    JMatt, to answer your question, no, I do not believe it would have been affirmed, had I taken that approach. I did not have time to sift through the mountain of Carter’s quotations and statements that I was sent, nor those related to many of the other plenary session speakers and seminar leaders that came my way, and confirm their accuracy. All that stuff is pretty much out there, anyway, confirmed or not. But an appeal to messengers at a convention of Texas Baptists, mostly over 50, mostly caucasian, mostly from the areas of Texas that have always been predominantly Republican, even in the “Yellow Dog” days, to dump something that Bill Clinton and Al Gore were involved in, strictly because they were involved would have had little opposition.

  12. Lee says:

    Ken,
    How would we find out about the travel expenses?

  13. I’m just a run of the mill Baptist who tends to still hold to the conservative approach to the person of Jesus. I have no problem with a gathering of Baptists to explore unity in various ways. My problem really is not with the political aspect of this meeting. I may not agree with the politics of the more famous names but neither will I begrudge them for their ideas. I won’t be going not because the meeting seems to have overtones of the left. This just has no real attraction for me. Perhaps that makes me a terrible person. It might make me close minded tho I like to think that there are various gifts and methods to do ministry. To my simple mind we are long past a place for much unity other than with those who agree with “us” whoever us may be. No, Im not in SBTC/SBC camp either. I’m one of the ones who doesn’t know if or where I belong anymore.

  14. hey lee? got your comment on my blog! always good to get something! trying to find your email but just get ahold of me and sure i can pray with you about something. good stuff on your blog btw.

  15. pastorpaul says:

    Lee, I finally figured out reading through your blog why your name sounds familiar- I was one of the 247 that voted for you. Thanks for your thoughts. I added you to my blog role. I know some young hard core moderate Baptists who are frustrated with the BGCT; I’ll point them your way.

  16. Todd Pylant says:

    I think we have to be consistent. I don’t remember a huge outcry when Condolezza Rice was asked to address the SBC annual meeting in 2006 or when President Bush spoke to the annual meeting in 2007. While I usually find myself voting Republican, I am very concerned that the SBC is too cozy with the Republican party. I am fully convinced that there are many Democrats that are part of the Kingdom of God, those who advocate for “heart of God” issues like the poor and justice. Yes, I know, many Democrats support things like abortion, but Republicans are not blameless either. Let’s just be consistent. Most of the outcries against the NBC are really against the Democratic party because we have confused Christianity with Republican politics, which are not even close!

  17. Lee says:

    You’re exactly right, Todd. Of course, at the moment, the focus is on the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant because we are discussing the BGCT involvement in that. But I do not believe our conventions and their mission and purpose leave room for the moments we accord to secular politics and politicians during our meetings.

    In 1990, then-President Bush addressed the SBC meeting in Atlanta. It created all kinds of disruption, the program had to be re-arranged, the security was tight, and the President, an Episcopalian whose theology would have been blasted by 95% of the people in the room, essentially didn’t say anything that had to do with the mission or purpose of the Southern Baptist Convention. Nor does the annual “live video” address from the President do anything except give him free publicity, and is a blatant display of partisanship among those who have control of the convention agenda, since the same privilege wasn’t extended to the previous President who actually was Baptist. Richard Land’s endorsements and pronouncements are also not consistent with the mission and purpose of the convention, and are not representative of a fair percentage of Southern Baptist church membership that belongs to the Democratic party.

    I object to any support or acknowledgement of any kind from any Baptist body regarding secular politics or politicians. That’s not our business, it is not our mission or our purpose, and it wastes precious resources. Our job is to win the lost, make disciples out of them, assimilate them into the fellowship and involve them in Kingdom work, regardless of the government under which we live. It’s the same mission that Christians have in countries where they have no say in who their government is or what it does.

  18. Todd Pylant says:

    Amen to all you just wrote.