Baptists & the Clinton/Obama Conundrum

As the race tightens between Senators Clinton and Obama, the New Baptist Covenant celebration, a concoction of former presidents Carter and Clinton to be held in the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta Jan. 30-Feb. 1, takes on added significance, not least because it happens less than a week before "tsunami Tuesday," of which the Georgia open-primary is a part of that 20-state primary-extravaganza.

The NBC is planned as a gathering of Baptists (predominantly "liberal" by persuasion) from some 30 denominational groups with some 20 million members, but pointedly excludes the evangelical, conservative16-million member Southern Baptist Convention, which Carter has indicated presents a "negative" image, never mind its support of 10,000 missionaries, half of them at work in North America and the other half everywhere else. Carter split with the SBC a number of years ago ostensibly over doctrinal differences, though his liberalism does not conform to the conservative bent of the SBC anyway.

This can justifiably be called a democrat/liberal convocation, its main speakers including Carter, Clinton, Al Gore, and until recently, Bill Moyers, who was replaced by highly acclaimed author John Grisham, an ardent supporter of Hillary Clinton, last fall appearing with her in an event that garnered $200,000 for her campaign and sitting with hubby Bill during one of the debates. Since 1996, he has averaged almost $30,000 per year in contributions to democrat office-seekers.

On the NBC Web-site's main page, however, are the pictures of republican senators Grassley and Graham, Baptists who will also speak, perhaps as tokens of "religious diversity." Coincidentally, Graham is running for reelection this year in South Carolina. Republican prez-wannabe Mike Huckaby was also scheduled to speak, but demurred after Carter had made a trip to his state and said some unflattering things about President Bush, not surprising, of course, since he has done the same thing in various parts of the world for years. Huckaby said, “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." That might be the understatement of the year.

Coincidentally (?), the Joint Midwinter Board Meeting of the four high-profile African-American Baptist denominations will be held Jan. 28-30 in the same venue, closing its meeting on the day the NBC convenes, and with the invitation to join their brothers/sisters of the NBC. Though Carter, Clinton and the Democrat Party have always taken the black vote for granted, this presents a dilemma, especially for Clinton, who has stumped with fervor and quite a few "sparks" in behalf of his wife's candidacy. The race-card now bolts front-and-center.

This is all the more interesting in that Senator Clinton attempted to put the "big smear" on Senator Obama during the debate in South Carolina, accusing him of being tied to a Chicago "slum-landlord," who will soon go on trial for criminal misdeeds. Obama was nice enough not to mention Hillary's connections to Whitewater, Travelgate, the Rose law firm, the "futures" financial bonanza, among other things, and her foreign trips on the USA dime while hubby Bill was in office (or somewhere). One still remembers her roughing it in the North African desert, complete with secret service and all the rest of the amenities of home and hearth. Obama may get around to this.

So…there's an added dilemma, this one for the black brothers and sisters, if any, who stick around. Obama is African-American, though, being half-white, he could just as easily be American-American…or he would fit the latter description no matter any consideration of ethnicity, as would any citizen. Without question, the black vote is being significantly split between Clinton and Obama, so the black Baptists in Atlanta will be wondering how to jump. In any case, the ongoing catfight between the two hurts their credibility. Clinton's obvious mudslinging hardball tactics, though not surprising, may well backfire.

The credibility of the NBC is no less hurt by the presence of Gore, who will be honored at a luncheon, despite the fact that his book and film, An Inconvenient Truth, have been found to be full of errors and can be fairly tagged as "alarmist" stuff, creating fear and heat, but not much light. As "peer-review" experts continue to take the climate-change-theory apart, especially with respect to its being a manmade phenomenon, Gore also loses credibility.

The Baptists at the NBC will, for the most part, attend for the right reasons, availing themselves of the many apparently well-planned activities vital to church life, but the political cloud hanging over the meeting, which could have been held as easily later in the primary season when total attention would have been given to church matters, is simply too obvious to ignore. As it stands, the NBC looks like a gathering of the Religious Left to counteract that evil Religious Right, part of that "vast right-wing conspiracy" concocted by Hillary in 1998 during the "Lewinski affair" that led to impeachment.