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Baptist Center for Ethics directors gathered prior to a recent meeting to discuss their support for a “New Baptist Covenant” celebration scheduled early next year in Atlanta.

Announced in January at a press conference featuring former U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, the gathering will attempt to unite America’s Baptists across racial and doctrinal lines.

“I’m excited about this gathering being centered around Jesus’ call–Jesus’ mission that’s articulated in Luke Chapter 4–because I think it’s a great opportunity for good-will Baptists to really name and claim Jesus’ mission for our world and our time,” said Joe Phelps, pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.

That reference is to Jesus’ inaugural sermon in his home synagogue in Nazareth, in which the Bible says he proclaimed good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, liberty to the oppressed and “the acceptable year of the Lord.”

At their March 1-2 meeting in Nashville, Tenn., BCE directors adopted a resolution declaring “enthusiastic support” for the celebratory gathering, scheduled Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2008, in Atlanta.

“From where I sit there’s been a lot of negative press about Baptists–wherever we are and whatever we’re doing, it seems the only time that we make the headlines is when something goes wrong,” said Bill Ireland, pastor of Ardmore Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C.

“What a wonderful opportunity for us as Baptists from all across the spectrum to come together and say, ‘You know, there is a huge task and a huge opportunity out there–God-sized–in this world of ours,” Ireland said. “Maybe Baptists can have something to do about resolving those difficulties and meeting those challenges.”

“We as Baptists have argued a lot about Bible and Bible interpretation,” said Phelps. “For me, the only authentic interpretation of the Bible is how you’re living out that faith, how we’re making Luke 4 real in our day and time.”

“I think there are many things that we as Christ’s followers can do,” said Carol Richardson, associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn. “We can pray, publicly, for those that hunger after bread and for those of us who have bread to hunger for justice. I think we can live simply so that others can simply live. I think that we can preach the biblical mandate to care for the least of these. I think we can provide educational opportunities, awareness in our churches to participate in the challenge of the Micah Challenge, cutting poverty in half by the year 2015. We can actually participate in things like Habitat for Humanity and the Heifer Project. There are many things that we can actually do that are action-oriented, that will make a difference.”

“I think it’s a wonderful idea to bring good-will Baptists together, primarily because we recognize our diversity,” said Allen Reasons, pastor of Fifth Avenue Baptist Church in Huntington, W. Va. “We know that a gathering of thousands in Atlanta is going to represent a huge mark of people that worship differently, look differently, come from all ends of the country. But that is who we are as Baptists. And so it will be in the diversity that we come and find some commonality. It seems what we focus on now is our differences and therefore allow those to separate us. But here we’re actually coming together, celebrating the diversity, and realizing we’re different, while having a common mission, a common goal.”

“Baptists are truly ready to come together for a gathering that doesn’t focus on our differences and doesn’t find its culmination in defining our differences,” Reasons said. “But rather we come together, celebrating the fact that we’re all called very differently, but our diversity in being Baptist is what’s going to bring us together.”

“What better to say than we want to gather to try and do what Jesus himself preached about, to follow what Jesus said,” Ireland said. “This is what I’m about, and maybe it’s time we said as a church, ‘Hey, we’re on the same page as our Lord and Savior. This is what he preached about, and we’re trying to find ways to really begin to put that in action.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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