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US Baptists hope to forge new alliance


Nearly 20 000 participants from 30 Baptist groups throughout the United States are meeting in Atlanta with hopes of promoting Christian unity and of forging an alliance for the first time since the American Civil War which ended 143 years ago.

Initiated by former US president Jimmy Carter, the three-day event, titled "Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant", will focus on social justice issues, such as healthcare and the needs of the poor in the United States, in an effort to create a bond between Baptists of diverging theological views.

A Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and lifelong Baptist, Carter told The Associated Press news agency he hopes the conference starting on 30 January can "solidify the image of Baptists and Christians being able to cooperate with other".

Absent from the event is the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest single Protestant group in the United States with 16.3 million members and seen as being conservative on theological and political issues. Only the Roman Catholic Church is bigger in the United States.

The Winston Salem Journal reported that in 2007, the Rev. Frank Page, the convention’s president, said that the gathering Carter is supporting had a "smokescreen left-wing liberal agenda".

Critics of the SBC say that throughout the 1970s and 1980s the convention waged a campaign to oust more politically liberal Baptists from leadership in the organization, its agencies and its six seminaries. Carter himself left the SBC in 2000 to join the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which is a supporter of the January event.

Along with Carter, major speakers include former vice president Al Gore, Republican Party senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Charles Grassley of Iowa and it was hoped that former president Bill Clinton would speak.

Critics of the gathering have claimed the organizers have a political agenda in the presidential election year. Carter and other event leaders however insist they want to show the world that Baptists with theological differences can work together on social issues.

The 30 groups attending the event represent millions of Baptists. Among them are the four major historically African-American Baptist denominations, along with US Latinos and white Baptists. It will be the first time in 160 years that black and white Baptist groupings have held a major meeting together.

The groups differ on theological and political issues, though most oppose abortion and gay marriage, and many ordain men only.

Read more about the New Baptist Covenant at: http://www.newbaptistcelebration.org 

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