New Baptist Covenant, Huckabee rank as top stories in ‘07, journalists say

Posted: 12/28/07

New Baptist Covenant, Huckabee rank
as top stories in ‘07, journalists say

By Robert Marus

Associated Baptist Press

WASHINGTON (ABP)—The biggest news story among Baptists in 2007 was about an event that has not even happened yet—the announcement of an unprecedented meeting of Baptists from across North America—according to an informal survey of journalists in the Baptist media world.

The Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, announced in January by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton—and the ensuing controversy stirred by its critics—was the top vote-getter in 2007’s Associated Baptist Press survey. The historic pan-Baptist meeting will be held in Atlanta Jan. 30-Feb. 1.

Mike Huckabee speaks at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas.

Coming in a distant second was Mike Huckabee's long-shot-turned-front-runner campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. The former Arkansas governor served as a pastor and president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention before entering secular politics.

Following closely on the Huckabee story’s heels to round out the top five were a fired professor’s gender-discrimination lawsuit against Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and its powerful president, continued strife over trustee Wade Burleson of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, and SBC messengers’ decision that the denomination’s confessional document is a “sufficient” guideline for its agencies’ policies.

Here’s the top-10 list, according to Baptist editors, journalists, bloggers and public-relations professionals who responded to ABP’s call for voting:

1. Carter, Clinton announce New Baptist Covenant gathering. Two Baptist ex-presidents hope the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant draws as many as 20,000 Baptists from a broad array of racial, theological and political backgrounds to the gathering to hear from high-profile Baptist ministers and laypeople. They will discuss ways to cooperate in areas on which they all agree, such as promoting social justice and evangelism.

Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton announce the New Baptist Covenant gathering.

But some SBC leaders—including President Frank Page—criticized the event, complaining that the SBC had not been invited to participate on an official level. Some of them, as well as conservative political commentators, said the event had a left-leaning political bias, with some claiming it was aimed at shoring up the presidential candidacy of Clinton’s wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Organizers countered that many Southern Baptists were involved with the planning and that the denomination wasn’t involved on an official level because it dropped out of the North American Baptist Fellowship of the Baptist World Alliance. They also noted prominent Baptist Republicans had been invited to speak, including Huckabee—who later dropped out in protest over remarks that Carter made about President Bush's policy toward Israel. But organizers later secured two GOP senators as speakers—Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, who belongs to an SBC congregation; and Charles Grassley of Iowa, a member of a congregation affiliated with the Baptist General Conference.

2. Former pastor Huckabee runs for White House. Huckabee was considered by most pundits to be at best a second-tier candidate until support from disgruntled rank-and-file GOP evangelicals fueled a surge in the critical early voting state of Iowa late in the year. He is now leading former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson and Arizona Sen. John McCain, who have far better-funded campaigns. However, Huckabee’s new attention has led to new scrutiny, including of his record as Arkansas governor as well as what some critics consider blatant pandering to evangelical voters.

3. Klouda sues SWBTS, Patterson. Sheri Klouda, who was hired to teach Hebrew in Southwestern’s School of Theology in 2002, was fired in 2006. Prominent SBC pastor and blogger Wade Burleson called attention to her plight in January, precipitating a firestorm in the denomination’s blogosphere. She sued in March, claiming gender discrimination and breach of contract. Southwestern officials—including powerful seminary president Paige Patterson, an architect of the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC—said having a woman training male pastors in the theology school was unbiblical and counter to seminary policy. But many younger SBCers disagreed, noting that the denomination’s faith statement says only that women cannot be pastors.

4. Strife on IMB board continues as trustees censure Burleson. A long-simmering dispute between Wade Burleson, an Oklahoma pastor, and many of his fellow IMB trustees boiled over again in November. The board voted to censure Burleson and bar him from official participation in board activities. They claimed his blogging in opposition to two controversial IMB policies violated trustee rules. Burleson countered that the rules themselves were un-Baptistic.

5. SBC messengers declare BF&M “sufficient.” One of Burleson’s arguments is that the IMB policies in question—regarding the baptisms of missionary candidates and their beliefs about speaking in tongues—went beyond the parameters of the Baptist Faith & Message statement. At the denomination’s annual meeting in June, he and like-minded bloggers encouraged the successful passage of a motion declaring the document the “sufficient” doctrinal guide for convention agencies. However, some SBC agency heads quickly noted they will continue to use other doctrinal restrictions in addition to the document.

Joy Fenner

6. Texas Baptists elect first female president. At their annual meeting, the Baptist General Convention of Texas elected retired Texas Woman’s Missionary Union Executive Director Joy Fenner as its president in a contested election. Fenner became the first woman to head the largest Baptist state convention.

7. (tie) Geoff Hammond elected NAMB president. After a tumultuous year at the SBC’s domestic-missions agency, in which a previous president was dismissed after an investigation into his management and financial dealings, Hammond was recruited from his position as an executive with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia convention.

7. (tie) Turmoil in Missouri Baptist Convention. Disputes between rival conservative Baptist groups in Missouri led to the ouster of the state convention’s executive director. Later, messengers to the Missouri Baptist Convention annual meeting registered their disapproval of the political faction that had forced David Clippard out, rejecting all of the candidates endorsed by the Missouri Baptist Layman’s Association.

9. Jerry Falwell dies at 73. Legendary Southern Baptist pastor and media impresario Falwell died suddenly in May, the first of an aging generation of conservative Christian leaders to pass away. Falwell was beloved by his followers and reviled by his critics, including many Baptists and other Christians, for his controversial statements about church-state separation and various groups he disfavored. However, he built both a massive church and an evangelical university from nothing.

10. North Carolina convention in turmoil. Years of pro-SBC fundamentalists consolidating their grip on the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s leadership led most of the state convention’s affiliated agencies—including three colleges and the state’s Woman’s Missionary Union—to distance themselves from the convention. In response, messengers to the annual meeting voted to defund WMU. They also expelled a prominent and historic Charlotte congregation, Myers Park Baptist Church, for its stance on accepting gays and lesbians, prompting national headlines in the secular press.

Other stories that captured Baptists’ attention in 2007, according to the survey, included:

• An ongoing dispute between Southwestern Seminary trustees and their colleague, Texas pastor Dwight McKissic. He resigned from the board after being censured for expressing his views on the topic of charismatic practices.

• The increasing emphasis among many moderate and progressive evangelicals on combating global warming as a moral issue.

• A recently announced breakthrough in stem-cell research that may help calm the ethical debate over the practice.

• The prevalence of discussions about candidates’ faith among contenders for both parties’ presidential nominations.

Readers are invited to give their own rankings of top Baptist news stories through an online survey on the Associated Baptist Press website at

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