New Baptist Covenant
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New Baptist Covenant is an association of Baptist organizations formed to address poverty, the environment and global conflicts. Former United States Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton proposed the establishment of a broadly inclusive alternative Baptist movement to counter the public image of Baptists as being predominantly tied to conservative political and cultural perspectives.
Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant
The effort began with a "Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant," a major conference of diverse Baptist organizations held in Atlanta, Georgia, January 30 through February 1, 2008. Carter said the meeting would be "one of the most historic events at least in the history of Baptists in this country, maybe Christianity." Clinton told reporters that those who "did not have both the privilege and the burden to be raised in the Baptist church cannot possibly appreciate" how unique such cooperation is. "This is an attempt to bring people together and say, 'What would our Christian witness require of us in the 21st century?'" Clinton said.
"Our goal is to have a major demonstration of harmony and a common commitment to personify and to accomplish the goals that Jesus Christ expressed in his sermon to his own hometown of Nazareth," said Carter.
Planners announced the theme of the gathering would be Unity in Christ. The Biblical basis for the meeting is cited as Jesus’ reading of scripture in the Synagogue as recorded in Luke 4:18-19. In these verses, Jesus reads from Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim the release of the captives, and the recovering of sight of the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
This call by Jesus to pursue both evangelism and ministry to “the least of these” is said to be the Biblical foundation for the New Baptist Covenant.
Inaugural meeting—April 2006
The New Baptist Covenant traces its roots to April 10, 2006, when former U.S. President and prominent Baptist layman Jimmy Carter and Mercer University President Bill Underwood convened at The Carter Center in Atlanta a group of 18 Baptist leaders representing more than 20 million Baptists across North America. The leaders were said to be unanimous in their desire to transcend their differences–including such factors as race, culture, geography and convention affiliation–and seek common purpose.
The outcome of the meeting was a document called A North American Baptist Covenant and preliminary plans to hold a major gathering of Baptists from throughout North America in 2008.
The initiative stems from the adoption of the "North American Baptist Covenant" in which leaders reaffirmed their commitment to Baptist values including evangelism, helping the needy and promoting religious liberty. It will be the first time since 1845 that there has been a major effort to bring together Baptists from diverse racial, theological and regional backgrounds. Most US Baptists met in 1814 to form a missionary society known as the Triennial Convention. Southern Baptists broke away over the slavery issue in 1845. Since then, Baptists have splintered even further, most recently due to the Conservative Resurgence/Fundamentalist Takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention in the last two decades of the twentieth century. Many object to the use of the word "takeover", since the Southern Baptist Convention is historically a conservative denomination as found in 'The Baptist Faith and Message', among other sources and reasons.
Follow-up meeting—January 2007
A follow-up meeting attended by 80 representatives of more than 30 Baptist organizations was held on January 9, 2007, at The Carter Center. The core group of those who gathered were representatives of organizations that are members of the North American Baptist Fellowship (NABF), a regional affiliate of the Baptist World Alliance. At the conclusion of the meeting, the representatives announced plans to hold a "Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant" in Atlanta on January 30-February 1, 2008.
The 80 representatives at this meeting are leaders of 30 Baptist organizations in the United States, Canada and Mexico. This meeting was termed by one of the organizers "a historic demonstration of Baptist unity" by deciding to focus on concerns shared by attendees as followers of Christ rather than dwell on obvious differences. Most participants at the Atlanta meeting are members of the 20-million-member North American Baptist Fellowship, part of the 102-year-old Baptist World Alliance. The Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention decided in 2004 to pull out of the Baptist World Alliance.
While individual Southern Baptists were involved in the announcement, no current leaders of the 16 million-member denomination attended the meeting.
The four largest of the predominantly African-American Baptist conventions began meeting jointly in recent years. They planned to do so again in early 2008 and then join with other Baptists a few days later for the "Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant."
The general secretary of the American Baptist Churches USA said this vision of Baptists coming together could encourage American Baptists soured by their denomination's fragmentation over homosexuality.
The national coordinator of the Atlanta-based Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), a quasi-denomination that emerged from the recent moderate/fundamentalist controversy, said the Carter initiative fills a need for "a broader Baptist witness that is committed to social justice as well as evangelism."
The New Baptist Covenant will be a "re-claiming of Baptist heritage," according to a statement from the Baptist Joint Committee. Further, it will be "a commitment to working cooperatively, being agreeable in our disagreements, and honoring historic Baptist tenets of soul freedom and religious liberty."
The 2008 "Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant" is not expected to create a new denomination or political coalition. However, planners hope it will inspire collaboration around evangelism and social causes, drawing together an even larger coalition of Baptists from the North and South, the U.S. and Canada, and predominantly black and predominantly white conventions and fellowships. Advocates of the New Baptist Covenant predicted it will help heal the racial divide that has separated Baptists in America since before the American Civil War.
Carter and Clinton—both raised Southern Baptist—announced the groups had committed to put aside more than a century and a half of social and theological differences to unite behind an agenda of compassionate ministry. Though the former presidents are both Democrats, Republicans were invited to attend the initial 2007 nonpartisan gathering as well. The program chairman said there would definitely be Republican speakers in the plenary session.
Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, which is not involved in the New Baptist Covenant, dismissed the event as merely another chance for disgruntled moderate and liberal Baptists to express their disapproval and contempt for the more conservative SBC. Some also have pointed to the event’s election-year timing and Clinton and Carter’s involvement as evidence it is designed to stir up Baptist support for Democrats—and especially the presidential bid of Clinton’s wife, Hillary Clinton.
Participating organizations and media
- American Baptist Churches, USA
- Baptist Center for Ethics
- Baptist Convention of Ontario & Quebec
- Baptist General Association of Virginia
- Baptist General Convention of Missouri
- Baptist General Convention of Texas
- Baptist Heritage Council of Georgia
- Baptist History and Heritage Society
- Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
- Baptist Union of Western Canada
- Baptist World Alliance
- Baylor University
- Buckner International
- Canadian Baptist Ministries
- Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches
- Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
- General Association of General Baptists
- Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Society
- Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists
- Mercer University
- National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.
- National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.
- National Missionary Baptist Convention of America
- North American Baptist Fellowship
- Progressive Baptist National Convention
- Texas Baptists Committed
- Union d'Eglises Baptistes Francaises au Canada
Baptist media organizations
- Associated Baptist Press
- Baptist Standard
- Baptists Today
- Ethics Daily
- National Baptist Voice
- "'Baptist Covenant' offers chance to heal racial wounds, leaders say." Associated Baptist Press News, January 11, 2007. http://www.abpnews.com/1605.article
- "BCE Directors Pledge Support for 'New Baptist Covenant'." Baptist Center for Ethics. http://www.ethicsdaily.com/article_detail.cfm?AID=8650. Accessed March 14, 2007.
- "Carter & Clinton call for 'New Baptist Covenant’." Baptist Press, January 10, 2007. http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=24745
- "Carter, Clinton Meet With Baptists to Plan for New 'Covenant'." http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2007/01/carter_clinton_meet_with_bapti.html
- "Carter, Clinton urge new Baptist covenant network." Christian Century, February 6, 2007. http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=2855
- "CBF Coordinating Council receives updates on CCT, New Baptist Covenant." Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, February 16, 2007. http://www.thefellowship.info/News/releases/070216Council.icm
- 'Baptist Covenant' offers chance to heal racial wounds, leaders say. http://www.churchexecutive.com/Page.cfm/PageID/8257
- http://www.newbaptistcovenant.org/about.icm/ New Baptist Covenant Website
- Moderate Baptists to meet in Atlanta on 21st century issues. http://www.macon.com/mld/macon/16420487.htm
- Blog from the Capital: The Baptist Joint Committee, the New Baptist Covenant, and the Future
- "Covenant most important Baptist event since Civil War, Allen says," The Baptist Standard, March 22, 2007 http://www.baptiststandard.com/postnuke/index.php?module=htmlpages&func=display&pid=6052.