Some here might be shocked to find that the 15,000 Baptists who convened in Atlanta this past week were each admitted to the meeting and invited to join the discussion without being asked once to show their voter registration cards or take a litmus test on any issues. As I entered the hall last Thursday for the luncheon, which coincidentally featured prominent Baptists President Jimmy Carter and Vice President Al Gore, no one challenged me as to how I could be a Baptist Deacon and a Democratic Candidate for US Congress. Nor did the Democrats and progressives who happened to take the stage try to convert the Republicans in the audience to their persuasion. Politics were actually forbade and the teachings of Jesus were front and center. What happened next was truly miraculous in our current political environment.
Consider this from the Associated Baptist Press.
[T]hey demonstrated racial, theological and geographic harmony as they prayed, sang, listened to sermons and attended workshops focusing on ministry to the people Jesus called "the least of these" in society. The unprecedented event brought together African-American, Anglo, Asian-American and Hispanic Baptists. They represented 30 Baptist conventions and organizations, all affiliated with the North American Baptist Fellowship, the regional affiliate of the Baptist World Alliance. They also heard from two former U.S. presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and a former vice president, Al Gore-all Baptists.
Participants scaled a 163-year-old wall that has divided the denomination since U.S. Baptists parted company over slavery more than a decade before the Civil War. As women and men of numerous races sat side-by-side through sermons and hugged and laughed in hallways, they embodied a dream-come-true for Baptists who dreamed of racial reconciliation in their denomination.
President Jimmy Carter was especially moving as he addressed the crowd.
"This is the most momentous event of my religious life," declared an emotional Carter, a son of the South and a lifelong Baptist.
"For the first time in more than 160 years, we are convening a major gathering of Baptists throughout an entire continent, without any threat to our unity caused by differences of our race or politics or geography or the legalistic interpretation of Scripture," said Carter, who co-chaired the gathering with Mercer University President Bill Underwood. Carter's euphoria echoed the aspiration of another Baptist from Georgia, and the convocation fulfilled the prophecy of Martin Luther King Jr., Underwood told the crowd.
"Forty-five years ago, a native son of Atlanta, a Baptist pastor, shared with all of us his dream: One day, on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners would be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood," Underwood said to sustained applause.
I attended with my pastor, Larry Wilson, whom some of you may recall.
We were there with open hearts ready to be part of this great day and integrate it into our lives, further enriching our communities back home. As I have reflected on the meeting I realized not just the similarities between the New Baptist Covenant and the promise that made me become a Democrat in the first place, but the similarities between the New Baptist Covenant and the Covenant of our Constitution made by our forefathers. The Constitution is the sacred Covenant of our Government with the People, and that Covenant is strong enough to separate Church from State and remain strong and independent while making our Nation even stronger.
As we look at this Covenant, whatever our beliefs, we can all surely agree our Nation is greatly improved by being good stewards of our environment, caring for the poor and those in crisis, accepting one another without regard to race, religious beliefs, or station in life, and that we must make good works not an abstract objective, but something concrete in our everyday lives.
I'm glad Republicans like Senator Grassley attended. I think the Republicans who boycotted like Governor Mike Huckabee missed an opportunity not only to help heal the divide in the Baptist Church, but to heal the political divide in our Nation.
Cross posted from Daily Kos.
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