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Baptist publisher Cecil Staton’s recently announced bid for the Georgia State Senate could be shaping up as a Baptist battle, with a minister from Macon entering the race.

Ben Taylor, an ordained minister and staff member at First Baptist Church of Macon, qualified Thursday as a candidate for Georgia State Senate in District 18, a newly drawn district that includes parts of Bibb, Crawford, Houston, Jones and Monroe counties.

Staton, president and CEO of Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, announced April 5 that he is running for the open seat in the State Senate. Staton faces two opponents for the Republican nomination for the office. Taylor is so far running as the lone Democrat. The deadline for qualifying for statewide elections is noon Friday.

The Macon Telegraph reported Tuesday that Staton has been actively advertising for weeks, hoping the show of financial strength would keep the field against him narrow.

It is Staton’s second foray into politics. In 2002 he ran unsuccessfully for Congress, surprising many moderates with a Religious Right campaign that appeared to contradict his reputation as a moderate publisher of Smyth & Helwys, a for-profit company that he and others established as an alternative to the fundamentalist-controlled publishing house of the Southern Baptist Convention.

A Staton for Senate Web site describes him as a “rock-solid conservative” and highlights his most recent business venture, Stroud & Hall Publishers, which won national acclaim for publishing Sen. Zell Miller’s book, A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat.

Taylor, 46, is minister of education and administration at First Baptist Church of Macon. He has served at the church 18 years and was ordained by the congregation in 1986. He previously served as a summer intern and minister of youth. He has been active in the Macon Baptist Association of Churches, including being elected moderator in 1999 and 2001.

Taylor is a member of the Monroe County Board of Education, winning election to the school board in 1993 and re-elections in 1998 and 2002. He also is president of Arc-Macon and MARC Resources, Inc., two organizations that provide opportunities and advocacy for persons with developmental disabilities.

“My years of service on a local school board as well as my involvement and leadership with organizations throughout the community have helped me to realize the tremendous need to have faithful public servants in all areas of government,” Taylor said in a press release announcing his candidacy.

Taylor describes himself as a “conservative, committed and common-sense choice.”

Taylor is taking a wait-and-see attitude about how his decision to run for office might affect his work at the Macon church. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon.

“If I move from qualifying to nomination, we all know it’s a quantum leap to the election,” he said. If elected, he said he would have to discuss with church leaders whether he could continue his ministry and in what capacity.

“This truly is something I feel is a calling,” Taylor said, describing not only his decision to run for state office but his 10-plus years on the local school board. He described as an “overarching sadness” that state law requires that once he qualified for statewide office he must relinquish his seat on the school board.

A native of North Carolina, Taylor has been a Georgia resident for 18 years. He is a 1986 graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Staton is a one-time member of First Baptist Church of Macon. He and a group of members left the church to start a new congregation in 1997 called Providence Baptist Church, which chose to affiliate with the Alliance of Baptists. The church has since folded. Staton now is a member at Highland Hills Baptist Church in Macon.

The Alliance of Baptists is a liberal group which, among other things, supports the full inclusion of gays into all areas of church life, including ordination. At its recent annual meeting, the Alliance adopted a statement decrying the “politicization” of gay marriage and supporting the rights of all citizens to “full marriage equality.”

When he ran for Congress in 2002, Staton, who opposed gay rights, said he didn’t know the Alliance affirmed homosexuals.

While Staton is still listed as president and CEO of Smyth & Helwys on the company Web site, he turned over the publisher title to Executive Vice President David Cassady when he entered politics.

Cassady has said Smyth & Helwys has complete editorial freedom and is not involved in Staton’s political campaigns. However, Staton bankrolled his 2002 run for Congress with $521,000 of his own money, presumably earned from business ventures including a broadcasting company he owns and Smyth & Helwys.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

See related story, Cecil Staton Again Seeks Public Office

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