JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Mike Huckabee, Republican presidential candidate and former governor of Arkansas, has withdrawn from the New Baptist Covenant Celebration planned for next January in Atlanta in protest of former President Jimmy Carter’s labeling of the Bush administration’s foreign policy as “the worst in history.”
Huckabee, who told the Florida Baptist Witness of his decision to drop out of the Baptist gathering in an exclusive telephone interview May 21, also said the roster of speakers “does seem to tilt left,” which gave him concern about participating. Huckabee called Carter’s comments an “unprecedented personal attack.”
The New Baptist Covenant Celebration is being organized by Carter and Mercer University President Bill Underwood under the umbrella of the North American Baptist Fellowship -– a division of the Baptist World Alliance -– to bring Baptists together to work on social concerns and improve what they regard as the judgmental image of Baptists, according to Associated Baptist Press.
Also involved in the Jan 30-Feb. 1 meeting will be former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore. Like Carter, Clinton and Gore are Baptists who have been very critical of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Huckabee’s involvement in the New Baptist Covenant Celebration was announced May 17 as part of a line-up of speakers intended to respond to early criticism that the meeting may have presidential political overtones in light of the timing of the meeting and prominent involvement of Democratic politicians. Other Republican Baptist speakers announced were U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
“While I continue to have great respect for President Carter as a fellow Christian believer and Baptist, I’m deeply disappointed by the unusually harsh comments made in my state this past weekend regarding President Bush, and feel that it represents an unprecedented personal attack on a sitting president by a former president which is unbecoming the office as well as unbecoming to one whose conference is supposed to be about civility and bringing people together,” Huckabee told the Florida Baptist Witness.
Huckabee added that he “tentatively” agreed to participate in the Baptist meeting “with the understanding that it was a celebration of faith and not a political convocation. In light of the program and roster of speakers, as well as the very harsh comments toward our president this weekend, I feel it would be best for me to decline the invitation and to not appear to be giving approval to what could be a political, rather than spiritual agenda.”
Huckabee cited the involvement of the “very, very liberal” Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, as an example of the liberal leaning of the gathering.
“Had I spoken (at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration) they would have heard a very conservative message which would be unapologetically pro-life, pro-family and by some definitions, fundamentalist in theology,” Huckabee said. “But I’m a conservative who’s not mad at anyone else and would not want to knowingly participate in a program if the focus was to tear down others instead of to lift Christ up.”
Huckabee told the Witness he had not yet notified either Carter or Underwood of his decision to withdraw, but would attempt to do so soon.
In a May 19 interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Carter blasted Bush’s foreign policy, his “pre-emptive war,” the administration’s efforts on peace in the Middle East and nuclear arms, and the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
“I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history,” said Carter, according to The Associated Press. “The overt reversal of America’s basic values as expressed by previous administrations, including those of George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and others, has been the most disturbing to me.”
Carter spokeswoman Deanna Congileo confirmed his comments to AP. He spoke while promoting his new audiobook series, “Sunday Mornings in Plains,” a collection of Bible lessons from Plains, Ga., his hometown.
Douglas Brinkley, a Tulane University presidential historian and Carter biographer, told AP Carter’s comments were “the most forceful denunciation President Carter has ever made about an American president,” calling the comments “fighting words.”
Huckabee told the Witness Carter had violated an “unspoken code that you don’t make personal attacks on the others who currently hold the job. You just don’t.” Huckabee added that part of the reason for withdrawing from Carter’s Baptist gathering “is that it’s one of the few ways that I can show my disappointment in the comments that were made this weekend.”
On May 21 Carter appeared to modify his criticism of Bush, telling NBC’s “Today Show” his comments were “maybe careless or misinterpreted” and that he “certainly was not talking personally about any president,” according to MSNBC.com.
“I think they were (careless), yes, because they were interpreted as comparing this whole administration to all other administrations,” he said, adding that in his initial comments he was comparing the Bush administration to the Nixon administration.
Larry Brumley, senior vice-president and chief of staff for Underwood at Mercer, reacted to Huckabee’s announcement with surprise.
“That’s disappointing, but I would have to say that we respect Gov. Huckabee’s wishes on this,” Brumley told the Witness. “We were looking forward to having him as part of the program.”
According to a Mercer University news release, other announced speakers for the New Baptist Covenant Celebration will include Tony Campolo, evangelical author and professor emeritus at Eastern University; Joel Gregory, professor of preaching at George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas; journalist Bill Moyers; Julie Pennington-Russell, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco; Charles Adams, pastor of Hartford Baptist Church in Detroit; and William J. Shaw, pastor of White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia and president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.
“Unity in Christ” will be the Celebration’s theme with sessions focused on “seeking peace with justice,” “bringing good news to the poor,” “respecting diversity,” “welcoming the stranger,” and “setting the captive free” and “healing the broken hearted.” The meeting will also feature special-interest sessions focusing on topics such as racism, religious liberty, poverty, the AIDS pandemic, faith in public policy, stewardship of the earth, evangelism, financial stewardship and prophetic preaching, according to the Mercer news release.
A website for the Celebration (www.newbaptistcovenant.org) lists 28 Baptist organizations that will participate in the meeting.
This story first appeared on the Florida Baptist Witness website at FloridaBaptistWitness.com