May 21, 2007

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee announced today that he is withdrawing from participation in the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant to be held next January 30-February 1 in Atlanta. He said he did so because of former President Jimmy Carter's recent attack on President George W. Bush. This is very unfortunate news. I was very excited about Huckabee's participation and looked forward to hearing from him. His own comments make it clear why it is unfortunate that he will not be there. He stated:

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.
The whole point of the Celebration is to bring together all Baptist voices. If there is a gap on the program, it will be the fault of Huckabee for silencing himself. It is also unfortunate that Huckabee did not contact organizers about his decision before it came out in the media. The Associated Baptist Press has an article that quotes me about Huckabee's decision. I offered:
Ironically, by dropping out of the celebration because of political comments with which he disagreed, Huckabee demonstrated why the celebration is so desperately needed -- Baptists are tragically divided and polarized. ... We must come together to show that our unified faith and values are more important than political, racial, or other differences. The compassionate gospel of Christ is what our divided world needs. I hope that Huckabee will reconsider.
Other Baptists also shared their thoughts on Huckabee's unfortunate decision. Program chairman Jimmy Allen stated:
While we are disappointed to learn of Governor Huckabee's withdrawal through a Baptist state paper, we are enthusiastic about the excellent program that is shaping up for next year's New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta. ... We are looking forward to celebrating our traditional Baptist values, including sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and its implications for public and private morality.
Alan Stanford, executive director of the North American Baptist Fellowship, said:
It is unfortunate that Mike Huckabee is letting comments made in the political arena determine his participation in a purely Christian event designed to bring Baptists together across racial, geographic, economic and social barriers. ... Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and Republicans Charles Grassley and Lindsey Graham are rising above their profession as politicians to join together in their common Christian commitment to alleviate poverty, AIDS, racism and other grave problems that confront both our nation and our world. That kind of Christian commitment that places doing the right thing above party politics is the key to us coming together to make a real difference in our nation and across the world.
And David Currie, director of Texas Baptists Committed, added:
The [New] Baptist Covenant meeting has never been about politics but about Jesus and unity. ... The fact is, if we have a meeting and only preachers preach, the national press will not cover our message. If prominent politicians of both parties speak, the national press will cover it. I am sorry Gov. Huckabee withdrew, as I have been impressed with him on TV several times. But I'm sure the Religious Right put great pressure upon him. I wish him well.
Huckabee's unfortunate decision points to Carter's unfortunate choice of words. In fact, Carter has stated that his comments did not come out as he had intended but were "careless or misinterpreted." But unfortunately his comments have already caused problems. A great reminder to us all came after Carter clarified his remarks. Deputy White House press secretary Tony Fratto responded by saying, "I think it just highlights the importance of being careful in choosing your words." It sure does! It is quite unfortunate that Carter did not express himself as clearly as he had intended and it is quite unfortunate that Huckabee has responded the way he did. This whole mess seems to prove why Baptists really do need to try and come together to celebrate that on which we are unified--the love of Jesus.