Recently, U.S. officials in Iraq surprised some by opening the door for former Baath Party members to apply for government positions. As you may remember, Baathists are the former rulers of Iraq. When the Iraq War was at its hottest, some commentators inadvertently confused their listeners, referring to "Baathists" in a way that sounded like "Baptists." The two names can sound the same — if you're not careful.
But there is a world of difference between the two.
The Baath Party, formally the Baath Arab Socialist Party, is the political party and movement influential among Arab communities in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq.
The Baath Party was, from the beginning, a secular Arab nationalistic party. Socialism was quickly adopted as the Party's economic dogma: "Unity, Freedom, and Socialism" is still the motto of the Party. From its earliest development, the motivation behind Baathist political thought and its leading supporters was the need to reassert the Arab spirit.
Shortly after the defeat of the Arab forces in what was called Palestine in 1948, three young Syrian men arrived in Baghdad.
The three men, Fayiz Ismail, Wasfi al-Ghanim, and Sulayman al-Eisa returned to Syria and joined political specialist Zaki al-Arsoozi, who was set on founding the al-Baath (the Renaissance) Party.
Al-Arsoozi's wish was to re-establish Arab pride. The men joined the Party and pledged to carry the Baathist name back to Iraq. Upon their return to Iraq in 1949, the three began the Iraqi Baathist Party.
They and al-Arsoozi, along with all the contemporary political Arab parties, drew legitimacy from an essentially reactive ideology. Nevertheless, Baathist ideology spread slowly by educating followers to its intellectual attractions.
From these humble beginnings, the Baathist Party became the eventual despots under the Chief Despot of the desert nation of Iraq. Under Baathist control human life became cheap and domination became an obsession.
Baptists, on the other hand, have different goals, strategies, beliefs, and behaviors. Below are some of the ministries of Southern Baptists.
Last year, Southern Baptists baptized more than 510,300 persons overseas, and more than 377,300 persons were baptized in Southern Baptist churches in the U.S. That is about one person baptized every thirty-five seconds. Southern Baptists also started 1,436 new churches in the U.S., an average of almost four new churches every day! They founded 16,721 new churches outside the U.S.! In addition, more than 30,000 volunteered for short-term missions outside the U.S.
Last year, the six Southern Baptist seminaries helped prepare more than 15,193 students as pastors and missionaries. In addition, Southern Baptists provided biblical and theological courses to about 3,782 laymen and lay ministers through about 450 extension centers.
The Southern Baptist family studied and acted upon a broad range of social and moral issues such as alcohol abuse, gambling, racism, pornography, homosexuality, abortion, world hunger, AIDS, homelessness, religious liberty, euthanasia, and bioethical issues like human cloning and fetal stem cell research.
In addition to assisting pastors in health and disability insurance and retirement needs, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) provided direct financial assistance to nearly 900 retired ministers, their widows and spouses.
Last year, Southern Baptists supported over 5,000 U.S. missionaries — the most in the history of the SBC! And more than 300,000 volunteers served in mission projects in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Canada, American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands through the North American Mission Board, also the greatest number in SBC history!
Less than an hour after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Southern Baptist volunteers mobilized and began providing relief for victims, families of victims, and the New York City community. More than 3,800 volunteers from Southern Baptist churches around the country partnered to prepare about a million-and-a-quarter hot meals; clean and sanitize almost 700 apartments of debris; and care for more than 850 children at mobile child care units.
NAMB sent some ninety chaplains from eighteen different states to New York City, where they counseled with victims and their families in hospitals and morgues throughout the city.
Southern Baptists may not know the scope of impact the Disaster Relief Teams have been making through the years. In 1996, Elizabeth Dole, then of the American Red Cross, declared that Southern Baptists fed more meals in disaster situations under Red Cross auspices since Hurricane Hugo in 1989 than any private or religious group in the nation — about 80 percent of the total (BP: 9/9/96). One Red Cross worker in New York said, "Everywhere I turn there's a Southern Baptist!"
In 2003, Southern Baptists contributed over $8.6 million to the World Hunger and Relief Fund, none of which was used for administration.
The truth of the matter is that the work of Southern Baptists, thanks to the grace of God and the faithfulness of the churches, is more effective than ever before. By every objective measurement criteria, the Southern Baptist Convention has proven that it is the faithful partner of the churches to carry out the Great Commission ministries on their behalf across the U.S. and the world.
So, when you speak of Baptists, Mr. or Ms. Commentator, or anyone else, make sure they don't sound like Baathists, or destroyers of men and women. Indeed, our goal — our obsession — is introducing everyone in the world to Jesus Christ, the One who gives life.