Well, there’s no misunderstanding former President Carter’s position on the Bush administration. He appeared on Wolf Blitzer’s “The Situation Room” today and pretty much blasted Bush, Chaney, and those in leadership for torturing prisoners and setting their own human rights standards. While the criticisms aren’t necessarily surprising, especially in a political season, they do make me wonder more about the upcoming gathering of Baptists early in 2008.
The Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant is scheduled for late January and there has already been a lot of publicity about it. The sessions are falling into place and keynote speakers have been secured. Good people are involved and it should be an exciting event. The Celebration has been hailed as a historic occasion for Baptists to come together across racial, political, theological, and social backgrounds. Organizers are estimating 20,000 in attendence. This should be the largest gathering of North American Baptists in quite some time. You’d have to recall some of the Southern Baptist Conventions during the height of the “controversy” to get that kind of number for a meeting (I really don’t expect the SBC to be involved, but they are invited to attend).
What concerns me is that the event is being touted as non-political ,yet the most visible proponent of the Baptist get together has been quite visible and vocal in his criticisms of the President. Carter has a right to do this, but it makes me wonder how he will be able to get all these people to Atlanta without turning the event into a promotional tool for getting a Democrat elected as President. I’d have the same concerns if Carter were Republican, or if former President Bush (41) was organizing a gathering of Episcopalians or another denominational group. It truly is remarkable to hear a former president so openly critical of a sitting president. I don’t recall hearing this sort of open criticism before.
It is not clear what the outcome of the Celebration of the NBC will be, but the expectations have been raised so high that I wonder if it’s impossible to meet them. The focus of the Celebration is Unity, so it makes me question how Carter’s rhetoric will impact the participants and news coming out of Atlanta that weekend. As November 2008 approaches, more pressure and publicity toward the presidential election is expected. It will be a challenge not to import some of the political positions of the season into this meeting. Presidents Carter and Clinton will be in attendance, and I will be interested to see what Republican presence turns out to be.
I’m not suggesting that there aren’t differing and emotional disagreements out there about the direction of our country. There is a place for dialogue, debate, and the exchange of ideas. One example of this has been provided in a DVD by the Baptist Center for Ethics. It’s entitled “Golden Rule Politics” and includes interviews of Baptists who happen to be Democrats. It might be a good discussion tool. Pastors and church leaders should learn how to be prophetic without partison, and this is easier said than done.
My hope is that issues can be discussed without making the Atlanta gathering a partisan affair. This is an obvious concern for those suspicious already of that many Baptists getting together under one roof only months before a presidential election. Time will tell if my concerns are unfounded. I hope that they are. The Celebration should be about our unity as Baptists rather than a platform to push a political agenda. It might be more helpful to this cause if Carter promoted the New Baptist Covenant first and focused on the politics of the season afterwards.