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Monday, January 08, 2007

The North American Baptist Convocation

As I blogged about months ago, last April a group of Baptist leaders got together and signed the North American Baptist Covenant. Leaders of Baptist conventions and organizations who signed the Covenant represent more than 20 million Baptists.

From a Mercer press release...

ATLANTA -- Mercer University will host more than 50 representatives of various Baptist groups in the United States and Canada at the annual meeting of the North American Baptist Fellowship in Atlanta on Monday and Tuesday.

The North American Baptist Fellowship is one of six regional fellowships that are part of the Baptist World Alliance, which is made up of 214 Baptist unions and conventions comprising a membership of more than 34 million baptized believers. The BWA unites Baptists worldwide, leads in evangelism, responds to people in need and defends human rights.

“The North American Baptist Fellowship is grateful to Mercer University and President Bill Underwood for hosting our annual Executive Committee Meeting,” said Alan Stanford, executive director of the North American Baptist Fellowship. “This is an historic meeting because we will have the largest and most diverse group of Baptist leaders in the history of NABF coming together to plan joint ministry initiatives.”

The organization’s meeting will conclude with a Tuesday morning session at the Carter Center hosted by former president and prominent Baptist Jimmy Carter.

“As a Baptist university that is committed to the historic Baptist principles of academic and intellectual freedom and respect for religious diversity, it is entirely fitting that Mercer host the annual meeting of the Fellowship,” said Mercer President William D. Underwood. “The university is currently partnering with several of the Fellowship’s member organizations on missions, archival and educational initiatives. We welcome them to Atlanta and to Mercer.”

Baptist groups represented in the North American Baptist Fellowship include Canadian Baptist Ministries, Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists, American Baptist Churches USA, Baptist General Association of Virginia, Baptist General Conference, Baptist General Convention of Texas, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Czechoslovak Baptist Convention of the USA and Canada, General Association of General Baptists, Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention USA, National Baptist Convention of America, National Baptist Convention USA Inc., National Missionary Baptist Convention of America, North American Baptist Conference, Progressive National Baptist Convention Inc., Seventh Day Baptist General Conference USA and Canada, and the Union of Latvian Baptists in America.

In more exciting news for cooperating Baptists, President Carter and President Clinton will announce tomorrow (Tuesday) plans for a convocation to be held in Atlanta next year. The intent of the convocation is to improve the "negative" image of Baptists in North America "and to unite the majority of Baptists into a loose-knit network to address social ills."

More from the Associated Baptist Press article below...

A Jan. 7 press release said the "historic" convocation, to be held Jan. 30 - Feb. 1, 2008, is "expected to draw more than 20,000 Baptist participants from throughout the United States and Canada." Bill Underwood, president of Baptist-affiliated Mercer University, helped Carter organize the April 2006 summit and the Jan. 9 press conference.

He told Baptist leaders he hopes the 2008 convocation will be a way to draw attention away from "the Baptists who have the microphone" currently. Underwood said the only image most North Americans have of Baptists comes from conservative leaders who frequently appear on television news shows or other media. They represent some of the most negative rhetoric, most conservative political views and most fundamentalist theology among the broad range of Baptist denominations and congregations. "They are increasingly defining the Baptist witness in North America," he said.

"North America desperately needs a true Baptist witness," Underwood told leaders of the 30-plus Baptist denominational entities, which range from conservative to progressive. "There's no organization in this room that has a strong enough voice … but the organizations in this room together do have a strong enough voice." Underwood said Baptists need to be known for feeding the hungry, healing the sick and working for justice.

The organizations represented by meeting participants comprise about 20 million Baptists in North America, the event's organizers noted. That's more than the 16 million members claimed by the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Baptist group in the world, whose leaders have moved sharply to the political and theological right in the last 25 years. While official SBC representatives have not been involved in the Carter initiative so far, organizers say they hope the convocation can include SBC leaders and other conservatives who are open to working with an array of Baptists more ideologically diverse than the denomination's leadership.

Carter and Clinton, both of whom will speak at the 2008 convocation, have identified with more progressive Baptist groups, but organizers said the convocation will include conservative speakers as well. In the April meeting, Carter, a former Southern Baptist, said he feels a need to create such a voice because of the schism the SBC experienced in the 1980s. "The most common opinion about Baptists is we cannot get along. … I have been grieved by the divisions of my own convention," he said at the time. Carter has been a longtime member, deacon and Sunday school teacher at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Ga. The church recently ordained his wife, Rosalynn, as a deacon -- a move most Southern Baptist leaders oppose. Clinton has recently joined Carter in lending his star power to the pan-Baptist effort. Although he attended Washington's Foundry United Methodist Church with his Methodist wife, Hillary, during his years in the White House, Clinton is a longtime member of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark.

For years, I've been forced to explain to friends, classmates, and aquaintenances that I'm not THAT kind of Baptist. Finally, we have an opportunity to gather and fellowship with Baptists from around North America who wish to include and not exclude. Presidents Carter and Clinton will get most of the credit for organizing this occasion. However, much of the credit must go to Mercer President Bill Underwood and Walter Shurden of Mercer's Center For Baptist Studies. Perhaps even a few SBC leaders will choose to attend the convocation - who knows?

For those attending, see you in Atlanta!


Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

As I said to Melissa Rogers on this same topic, I became a Baptist in Heidelberg, Germany. So, even though I was a part of (the losing part of) the SBC from 1983-1993, I ALWAYS resented the way Southern Baptists seem to think they are the ONLY Baptists. I now belong to a church with Alliance of Baptists and American Baptist Connections. I work always to promote a global Baptist identity--one that is rooted in our origins in 17th C. Holland and England, but connects around the world--with many kinds of local flavor.

12:58 AM

Anonymous Mercer University said...

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1:25 AM


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