While many conservative Baptists see politics behind the New Baptist Voice plan aimed at creating a positive image of the denominational group, one advocate of the plan said it is not a covert political move.
The major stars behind the effort to improve the "negative" image the public has of Baptists and to unite Baptists in North America are former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. And the convocation launching the "Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant" is scheduled for the beginning of 2008, the year of the presidential election.
"This has not been something Bill Clinton has organized or worked towards or even been involved in," said Bill Underwood, president of Mercer University and co-organizer of the Baptist plan with Carter, according to the Associated Baptist Press.
The overall endeavor, Underwood explained, is the brainchild of Carter; and Carter had invited Clinton to lend his "star power" to the pan-Baptist effort.
It is not a secretly a plan to get Baptists to elect Hillary Clinton as president, Underwood clarified.
The announcement of the Baptist plan stressing unity and compassion was made earlier this month at The Carter Center in Atlanta. Carter and Clinton along with about 80 other Baptist leaders claiming to represent 20 million Baptists in the continent set a tentative date of the new covenant for Jan. 30 - Feb. 1 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. Around 20,000 Baptists are anticipated to attend.
Although a "historic" event for Baptists, as Carter called it, Southern Baptists were not formally invited and critical of the intent.
Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptists' public policy arm, said the organizers of the 2008 gathering have to work hard to ensure the event is not viewed as "overtly political."
The timing of the gathering is suspect, several Southern Baptists have said.
Underwood explained that the North American Baptist Fellowship, where most of the plan's involved Baptists are housed, is composed of Baptist bodies that belong to the Baptist World Alliance, according to ABP. They include conservative, moderate, predominantly black, predominantly white, American and Canadian Baptists.
Some Southern Baptists were also present at the meeting where the covenant was announced. Although not formally invited, Southern Baptists and those who are Republican are still welcome to join the effort, Carter had insisted. A formal invitation had not been extended to the Southern Baptist Convention because the large denomination had withdrawn from the NABF and the Alliance.
Carter said he hopes to shift the emphasis from the divisive issues among Baptists to the "common commitments that bind us together," according to The Washington Post.
And Clinton's involvement, Underwood explained, provides a bigger platform for the large effort.