January 14, 2015
By Aaron Weaver and Carrie McGuffin
ATLANTA — The 2015 New Baptist Covenant Summit kicked off Wednesday with a reception at the Carter Center in Atlanta. A group of diverse Baptist leaders gathered to hear greetings from President Jimmy Carter, who launched the New Baptist Covenant movement in 2007 to break down barriers of race, theology and geography among Baptists to fulfill Jesus’ mandate in the Gospel of Luke to proclaim the good news and set the oppressed free.
Carter emphasized to the group the importance of working together to advance Jesus’ vision of transformation in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke.
“There’s a general consensus, even awareness, now that the main obstacle or impediment that prevents the Christian faith from being spread as envisioned by Jesus Christ is the incompatibility of Christians of all denominations to work together with a common spirit and a common commitment.”
During a two-day summit in November 2013, Baptist congregations from Atlanta, Dallas, St. Louis and Birmingham, Ala., announced that they were entering into “covenants of action” to seek reconciliation and transformation in their communities through cooperative missions and advocacy to improve literacy rates among youth (Atlanta), reduce childhood hunger (Birmingham, Ala.), confront poverty (St. Louis) and combat predatory lending (Dallas).
President Carter said that the covenant of action between Baptist churches in Atlanta “will show us how we can deal with the abject consequences of a lack of literacy.”
“It’s almost impossible for an illiterate person who can’t read and write and defend himself/herself from [those] who take advantage of their inability to read,” Carter said.
He highlighted the problem of predatory lending, noting that in cities like Dallas, where interest rates on short-term payday loans often exceed 500 percent, it is low-income residents who are being targeted.
“It’s not the wealthy who pay 500 percent interest, who can afford it perhaps, but it is the ones who are vulnerable,” Carter said.
The 39th president of the United States also pointed to the covenants of action in St. Louis and Birmingham, Ala., applauding the efforts of Baptist churches to pursue reconciliation and transformation.
“I think there is a stirring of awareness on the part of Americans that we still have a long way to go in realizing the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr., [Andrew] Young and others, and obviously and more importantly the dream of Jesus Christ, that we treat each other equally,” Carter said. “These four [covenants of action] projects are very exciting…and will be expanded with 10 more, then 40 more as time goes on, and I know that this will be greatly magnified for the surrounding communities.”
The 2015 summit marks the movement’s fourth national gathering. The inaugural New Baptist Covenant celebration in January 2008 brought together more than 15,000 people representing over 30 Baptist organizations. Three years later, a second national meeting was held in 2011 to focus on restorative justice and the plight of incarcerated men and women.
At the 2013 summit, Baptist ministers from Atlanta representing Ebenezer Baptist Church, Park Avenue Baptist Church and Greater Piney Grove Baptist Church pledged to work together to improve literacy rates among youth. Baptist churches in Birmingham, Ala., including Baptist Church of the Covenant, Vestavia Hills Baptist Church and Tabernacle Baptist Church, covenanted to reduce childhood hunger in their city. A group of St. Louis churches, including Kirkwood Baptist Church, St. Luke Memorial Missionary Baptist Church and Harrison Avenue Missionary Baptist Church, committed to confronting poverty, and a partnership of Dallas’ Friendship-West Baptist Church and Wilshire Baptist Church promised to combat predatory lending in their community.
The two-day summit concludes Thursday and features keynote addresses from Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church; Luis Cortés, president and CEO of Esperanza, the largest Hispanic faith-based evangelical network in the United States; and Amy Butler, senior minister of the historic Riverside Church in New York City.
The New Baptist Covenant is an informal alliance of more than 30 racially, geographically, and theologically diverse Baptist organizations from throughout North America that claim more than 20 million members. Representatives of these Baptist organizations have reaffirmed traditional Baptist values, including sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and its implications for public and private morality, as well as their obligations as Christians to fulfill the biblical mandate to promote peace with justice, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and the marginalized, and promote religious liberty and respect for religious diversity.