Praising the Southern Baptist Convention for helping to build a “compassionate society,” President George W. Bush on Tuesday mentioned a church aligned with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship that no longer sends funds to the SBC.
Speaking live via satellite at the SBC annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., Bush repeated themes of three previous appearances at the convention, including thanking Southern Baptists for their prayers, support of troops and opposition to gay marriage, abortion and cloning.
He also defended his “faith-based initiative” to make it easier for religious organizations to qualify for government grants to provide social services.
“America’s faith-based institutions change hearts every day,” Bush said. “And we depend on the work of these organizations to bring hope to harsh places. Yet for too long, governments have discriminated against faith-based programs–just because they have a cross or a Star of David or a crescent on the wall.”
Bush said that is why he signed an executive order that faith-based groups providing social services are entitled to the same access to federal money as other groups.
“I am proud that we have now opened billions of dollars in grant money to competition that includes our faith-based charities,” the president said. “For example, my administration awarded College Park Baptist Church in Orlando, Florida, $5.8 million to build 68 homes for low-income seniors.”
Pastor Ron Crawford told EthicsDaily.com the church was recently awarded a contract through HUD to build a second facility for persons who are disabled or near the end of life. The first, also built with HUD money, is 22 years old.
The church Web site describes College Park Baptist Church as “a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship church” located in the Orlando suburb of College Park. The site links to CBF and other moderate Baptist entities but not to the SBC.
The Atlanta-based CBF split from the SBC in 1991 over differences including biblical inerrancy and the ordination of women. The convention views the 1,800-church body as a competitor and refuses to accept money that churches channel through it.
Adding to the irony, Crawford said, is the fact that the church voted two years ago to no longer send funds to either the Southern Baptist Convention or Florida Baptist Convention unless a member designates them that way.
“That’s not because we’re mad with anyone,” Crawford said. “We feel like we were called to a different part of the vineyard.”
Crawford said the new HUD unit will be located on a lot adjacent to a 103-unit existing facility built in 1983.
“This kind of thing has been done for a long, long time,” Crawford said. When the church applied for funding, “We never thought of it being applied to faith-based initiatives,” he said.
“This is a ministry of compassion,” Crawford said. “It’s just a wonderful ministry that our church has been participating in. We have been doing this for over 20 years.”
The pastor said church members help oversee the facility, deacons serve communion there once a month, youth visit the residents regularly and volunteers serve a dinner every Thanksgiving.
Asked about the irony of a CBF church being recognized at the SBC meeting, Crawford said, “God works in mysterious ways.”
This was the fourth consecutive year for Bush to speak to the convention, though he has never attended in person. No previous sitting president had ever spoken to the SBC two years in a row.
Last year Bush thanked Southern Baptists via satellite for strong support of his war on terror and pledged to keep working to “build a culture of life.” He also pledged to defend “the sanctity of marriage” against “activist courts.” Bush said he would appoint only judges who “strictly interpret the law, not legislate from the bench.”
In 2003, Bush told messengers in Phoenix on videotape, “You and I share many common values,” including opposition to human cloning and abortion.
In 2002 in St. Louis, Bush honored Southern Baptists for guarding the separation of church and state and their tradition of toleration of other faiths. In the months following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Bush was sounding a theme that Americans shouldn’t blame terrorism on Muslims. He was apparently unaware that a former SBC president in a pre-convention meeting had just made a controversial anti-Muslim statement labeling the prophet Muhammad a “demon-possessed pedophile.”
Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush, addressed the SBC in 1991. Vice President Dan Quayle attended the convention in Indianapolis in 1993.
President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore were both members of Southern Baptist churches, but neither was invited to speak to the convention during their two terms in the White House.
Introducing Bush, SBC president Bobby Welch said, “It is always a blessing when our nation has a president who really knows the Lord.”
Following the president’s broadcast comments, White House assistant Tim Goeglein took the platform to describe Bush as “a president rooted in faith” committed to “compassionate conservatism at home and the march for freedom abroad.”
That policy, he said, is “a reflection of this faith but also a confirmation that this country is exactly what Abraham Lincoln said it was, the last, best hope of earth.”
“At the end of the day what makes us the greatest country in the history of man is always to remember from where our freedom derives,” Goeglein said. “At the end of the day, it is God Almighty himself who blesses the United States of America.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.