The Norman New Baptist Covenant gathering in August is what the Atlanta New Baptist Covenant gathering in January 2008 should have been — theologically inclusive of banner-bearing Southern Baptists, politically welcoming to card-carrying Republicans and ethnically representative of Hispanics and Native Americans.


Building Bridges” is scheduled for Aug. 6-7 in Norman, Okla. It may be the most morally and theologically energetic Baptist gathering in North America this year.


Credit for the diverse and dynamic gathering goes to Bruce Prescott, executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists.


High-profile speakers include former President Jimmy Carter, Democratic Gov. Brad Henry of Oklahoma and his wife, Kim Henry, and former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts.


Two widely-known Southern Baptist leaders are also on the program — folk who are invested in the Southern Baptist Convention, unlike those on the first NBC program who claimed they were Southern Baptists but only by the virtue of their churches being too weak-kneed to withdraw from the SBC.


Norman’s SBC leaders include Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., and past president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, and Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, and past president of the fundamentalist-controlled Southern Baptists of Texas Pastors’ Conference.


Hispanics have a more significant presence on this program than in Atlanta, led by Ellis Orozco, pastor of First Baptist Church of Richardson, Texas; Javier Elizondo, executive vice president of the Baptist University of the Americas; Laura Cadena, a laywoman who is director of communications for a bilingual, multiracial and multicultural community of believers; and Rene Maciel, president of the Baptist University of the Americas.


In addition to Watts and McKissic, other African-American leaders include Major Jemison, pastor of St. John’s Missionary Baptist in Oklahoma City and past president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention; Fitz Hill, president of Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock; Michael Bell, pastor of Greater St. Stephen Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas; David Goatley, executive secretary-treasurer of the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention; and George Young, pastor of Holy Temple Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.


Native-American Baptists are on the program. Wilford Brown is scheduled to give his testimony. Brown is campus minister at Bacone College, a college affiliated with the American Baptist Churches-USA, which was begun with an educational mission for American Indians.


Kathy Longhat, pastor of the Rainy Mountain Kiowa Indian Baptist Church, is leading a workshop on western heritage worship.


Freewill Baptist leaders include Tim Eaton, president of Hillsdale Freewill Baptist College, and Joe Grizzle, pastor of CrossPointe Church in Norman.


After Watts opens the meeting with his testimony, the gathering will screen “Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism” and have a panel discussion that includes several of the award-winning documentary’s interviewees.


Having provided leadership at the NBC gatherings in Birmingham and Kansas City, the biennium of the American Baptist Churches-USA and the general assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship this year, my sense is that the Norman meeting has the unique potential for constructive sparks to flight, sparks that will help to create a new synergy for the common good.


Norman is a must-attend meeting for goodwill Baptists. Pre-register today. Don’t miss a content-rich, network-building experience that transcends the racial, ethnic, theological, political and cultural boundaries that keep too many Baptists apart. Be a part of the new Baptist future.


Robert Parham is executive editor of and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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