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Monday, January 21, 2008

Politics, Race, Church and Faith Merge in Atlanta

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, reports that Southern Baptist leaders will be noticeably absent from a historic convention of Baptists this month in Atlanta aimed at reversing decades of racial and theological divisions and driving new socially conscious ministries.

Up to 20,000 white, African-American and Latino Baptists representing more than 20 million church members will gather in Atlanta in two weeks for what Baptists watchers are calling an historic event.

The broad coalition could also serve as a counterweight to the politically and theologically conservative Southern Baptist Convention, with about 17 million members.

The president of the Southern Baptist Convention denounced the Atlanta meeting, whose public face is former President Jimmy Carter. Carter critically and publicly left the denomination in 2000.

The very people who have played up the dissensions are the ones calling the meeting, the Rev. Frank Page said in a statement last year, and he questioned what he believes is the liberal slant of the speakers, who include ministers, politicians and people involved in social ministries. Baptists ought to concentrate on saving souls, Page said.

Carter, in a phone interview, denied the meeting was political.

He said he helped organize the meeting to show the world that Christians of every political, racial and national persuasion can worship and work together to address social needs.

The meeting Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 will feature preaching and speeches by Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former President Bill Clinton, who stood by Carter last year in calling for the meeting. Former Vice President Al Gore will speak on the environment, and well-known workers in social issues will present workshops.

The meeting immediately follows another significant gathering, of four large black Baptist denominations. They have suffered their own divisions but are coming back together. Many delegates will attend both.

"[The meeting] is precedent setting," said Yvonne Drayton, the spokeswoman for the National Baptist Convention, USA, whose membership is estimated at more than 5 million. Its the largest African-American Baptist denomination in the U.S.

"This is the first time the black Baptists and the white Baptists and everyone else have gotten together for a meeting like this," she said. More HERE

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