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Carter, Clinton back new grouping for ‘moderate’ Baptists

Former US presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are backing a new grouping of Baptists in a centrist organization that will tackle broader social issues and counter a perceived image of the Southern Baptist Convention as an exclusionary church. At the same time the new grouping has invited the Southern Baptists to its foundation convention a year from now.

"This is a historic event for the Baptists in this country and perhaps for Christianity," Carter said on 9 January. The organization, which includes about 40 Baptist groups, plans to hold its first convocation in Atlanta in January 2008.

Carter left the Southern Baptists in 2000 after the denomination came under the control of leaders considered politically conservative.

"Our goal is to have a major demonstration of harmony and a common commitment to personifying and to accomplish the goals that Jesus Christ expressed," Carter said.

Organizers say the 2008 event could draw more than 20 000 Baptists. Among the groups supporting the effort are several historically black Baptist denominations. Carter stressed that Southern Baptists are invited to the gathering.

The meeting’s focus will be on healing social ills including poverty, pollution, lack of health care and global religious and racial conflict, according to organizers.

In 1979, Southern Baptists, who believe the Bible is without error, took leadership of the convention, which now claims 16.4 million members. The denomination became a leading voice opposing abortion and gay marriage, and took stands on many other public policy issues.

Southern Baptists with a more liberal outlook responded by forming their own groups, including the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which is also supporting next year’s assembly.

Carter has been a long-time member, deacon and Sunday school teacher at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia. The church recently ordained his wife, Rosalynn, as a deacon. Many Southern Baptist leaders do not agree with women holding positions of leadership in the denomination.

Clinton attended Washington’s Foundry United Methodist Church with his Methodist wife, Hillary, during his years in the White House, but he is a longstanding member of Immanuel Baptist Church in his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas.

(c) Ecumenical News International