By Bob Allen
A movement founded by former President Jimmy Carter to unite U.S. Baptists across racial and other divides in service to the poor is among 16 social justice initiatives to watch in 2016 cited by the Center for American Progress.
The Center is a public policy research and advocacy organization founded by former Bill Clinton chief of staff John Podesta in 2003 as a progressive alternative to conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute. It included the New Baptist Covenant in a list of “16 Faith Leaders to Watch in 2016” released Jan. 20.
“Recognizing a need to transcend the discord, former President Jimmy Carter and several denominational leaders committed to promoting a unity-through-service model by working toward common goals,” a press release describes the New Baptist Covenant. “To be a part of the movement, two or more churches from different Baptist traditions must agree to jointly address a pressing need in their community.”
“The alliance of more than 30 Baptist organizations has already turned this inspiration for unity into action,” says the Center for American Progress. “They have tackled predatory lending, assistance for formerly incarcerated family members, food inequality, and literary skills training for disenfranchised communities.”
In 2008 more than 15,000 people representing over 30 Baptist organizations gathered in the first New Baptist Covenant meeting convened at the initiative of former President Carter and former Southern Baptist and Cooperative Baptist leader Jimmy Allen.
Subsequent national and regional gatherings focused not on the various controversies that caused Baptists to separate over 150 years, but common values summarized in Luke 4 “to proclaim good news to the poor.”
In 2013 the movement entered a work phase by introducing “covenants of action” linking black and white Baptist congregations together in community service projects.
Last fall one of the first groups to form a covenant of action in St. Louis, Mo., joined hands for a daylong mission collaboration called Hands on Kirkwood, modeling good will in the wake of protests in nearby Ferguson, Mo., following the police shooting of African-American teenager Michael Brown.
“Under determined leadership and with active congregants, the New Baptist Covenant represents a way forward for other fractured religious communities to identify shared values and create social impact beyond their houses of worship,” the Center for American Progress said.
Other initiatives on the watch list include various faith groups embracing refugees, a call to action by African-American clergy to combat climate change and a network of progressive clergy in Michigan working against state legislative efforts to limit LGBT rights.
“These 16 faith leaders are working to bring those who have been pushed to the margins back to the center of society, heal the planet, welcome newcomers and overcome hate with love,” commented two American Center for Progress staffers who compiled the list.
“Despite a political atmosphere that too often seems poisoned with divisive rhetoric and actions, these faith leaders are rising above rancor and setting a tone of hope and welcome,” said co-authors Claire Markham and Lauren Kokum. “They, and the communities of faith they represent, will help make 2016 a remarkable year for social justice. We appreciate and admire them and look forward to celebrating all they will achieve in the new year.”