By Bob Allen
A Texas foundation started by Sysco founder and Baptist layman John Baugh has pledged $1 million over four years for operating expenses of a movement spearheaded by former President Jimmy Carter to unify U.S. Baptists across racial, geographical and theological lines.
The gift from the San Antonio-based Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation will help the 7-year-old New Baptist Covenant movement shift from large meetings to “covenants of action,” where two or more churches from different Baptist traditions come together to address a pressing need in their community.
Hannah McMahan, New Baptist Covenant coordinator, said the movement plans to nurture 100 covenants of action nationwide over the next four years.
“We are delighted by the generosity of the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation,” said Mahan, a graduate of Wake Forest Divinity School and whose office is based at the Progressive National Baptist Convention headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“The Baughs have been dedicated partners in the ministry of the New Baptist Covenant since the beginning,” McMahan said. “I am deeply moved by their generosity, and their faithful support of the mission of the New Baptist Covenant movement.”
Jackie Moore, vice president of the foundation named after her grandparents, said she believes the founders would have supported President Carter’s effort to bring Baptists together around values that unite rather than divide.
“My grandfather, John Baugh, dreamed of the day that Baptists would be known not for the divisions between them, but for how brightly Christ’s love shone through them despite their superficial differences,” said Moore, also a member of the Baptist News Global board.
“He and my grandmother, Eula Mae, were profoundly committed to the church’s responsibility to love and serve others,” she said. “Each of them fostered a life-long conviction that this was the way to best serve God, and we are thrilled to recognize this conviction as the driving force behind the efforts of the New Baptist Covenant.”
Carter, a lifelong Southern Baptist who in recent years switched loyalties to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, brought leaders from more than 30 Baptist organizations together in 2007 to discuss creative opportunities for fellowship and cooperation.
An inaugural New Baptist Covenant celebration in January of 2008 in Atlanta attracted more than 15,000 Baptists from various traditions. A second national meeting in 2011 was beamed via satellite to locations around the country.
The next New Baptist Covenant summit is scheduled Jan. 14-15, 2015. Confirmed speakers include Amy Butler of the Riverside Church in New York, Luis Cortés of Esperanza in Philadelphia and Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Established in 1995, the Baugh Foundation has supported a wide range of Baptist causes including Baptist News Global, formerly known as ABPnews/Herald. It was formed to continue philanthropic work of John Baugh, founder and former CEO of Sysco, the world’s largest food service company, who was active in the moderate faction of SBC controversy in the 1980s and 1990s, and his wife, Eulah Mae.