Clinton/Carter et al & the Religious Pander

The 2008 president-wannabes are gearing up for the long haul now, which means raising money and reaching out to the various constituencies they deem vital to their success. John Edwards was out in Hollywood recently, presiding over a fundraiser, with his apparatchiks refuting a statement allegedly made by him to the “elite” to the effect “that the possibility that Israel would bomb Iran's nuclear facilities is perhaps the greatest short-term threat to world peace,” according to the Associated Press. Is Edwards doing the “Jewish Shuffle?” And then there were those two Christian-baiters, staffers he had to let go.

John McCain was in Orlando, Fla., the other day meeting with religious broadcasters, no doubt repairing the damage he brought upon himself in 2004 when he offended “religious conservatives.” Senator Obama “will deliver the keynote address next month at the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee that commemorates the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march, organizers said Tuesday,” also according to AP. Predictably, he will also speak in a black church, a la the style of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, as well as Bill Clinton, Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, and John Edwards in other days. Senator Clinton is said to have hired a consultant to advise her on religious matters.

It’s no coincidence that these wannabes are after the so-called “religious vote,” actually those cast by the group they consider most ominous, the “religious conservatives.” They understand that rabid religionists in this country make war at the ballot box, rather than engage in various and assorted homicide/suicide bombings of women and children in the grocery store, beheadings, tortures, lynchings, assassinations gangland-style, and other religious rites as practiced in Muslim countries.

The quintessential paradigm for political proselytizing in the name of religion occurred last month as two consummate politicians – acting in their roles as “Baptist laymen” – gathered representatives from 40 Baptist denominations or other groupings in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico at the Carter Center in Georgia and, in concert with other spokespersons, cobbled up something called the New Baptist Covenant. The politicians: former presidents Jimmy Carter and William Jefferson Clinton.

According to Bill Leonard, a Baptist historian who is dean of the Wake Forest Divinity School, "Probably not since 1845 has this kind of effort been made to bring together Baptists black and white … and of diverse theological and regional backgrounds, and that means it is terribly historic," as reported by Associated Baptist Press. Well…hardly. Effort at integrating white and black Baptists has been an ongoing thing for decades, including such methods as pastors exchanging their pulpits and congregants exchanging their worship services. In 1995, Southern Baptists approved a resolution of apology to African Americans for whatever they felt was in order, with black Baptist leaders sort of laughing them to scorn, as Ugandan President Museveni did vis-à-vis former president Clinton’s “apology tour” of Africa shortly before leaving office, calling Clinton’s effort “rubbish.”

Most folks understand that orchestrated attempts at “togetherness” are as successful as mixing oil with water. Integration socially and religiously takes place spontaneously, if at all, as people make it happen naturally. So…what should one think Carter and Clinton have in mind? What should one think about all those religious leaders (some 80 or so, according to reports) being a part of something so transparently political, but ostensibly in the name of religion?

Carter’s denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, ran afoul of his religious philosophy during the 1980s-90s, when SBC leaders gradually made it far more conservative…some might say fundamentally so. Fundamentalists generally receive poor marks from the more moderate and liberal folks, especially in the field of religion. Most commentators claim that President Bush was elected in 2004 by the “religious right,” of which Southern Baptists are thought to be the main – at least largest – culprit. Anyone for a Carter “New Covenant” motive here? The New Baptist Covenant clambake was a lockout of Southern Baptists (no leaders invited, though the SBC numbers some 16 million in membership), probably the most mission-minded denomination in the country, supporting with both finances and resources more than 10,000 missionaries about evenly divided between foreign and North American countries.

The New Baptist Covenant convocation (20,000 Baptists expected) is scheduled to be held January 31-February 1, 2008, in Atlanta. Not so coincidentally perhaps, the presidential campaign, with four states holding primaries or caucuses just days before the meeting and nearly all the other states soon after, will be in full swing, with the presumptive favorite at this time being Bill Clinton’s wife, the senator. Could this have anything to do with Bill Clinton’s involvement, especially in the Deep South, where Hillary is anything but popular?

If the Baptists who consider themselves moderate had wanted to meet and integrate and inculcate good will, as well as care for the poor and set up ways to heal the sick, wouldn’t they have been expected to respond to their denominational leaders, instead of lay Baptists who are consummate politicians…or vice versa? It would seem so. The New Baptist Covenant may not seem to be such a good idea between now and next January, especially as Baptists wonder if they’ve been had by some wily political operatives. Is the whole thing just a hype of the “religious left” in an attempt to get even with the “religious right,” led by two former presidents whose records at governing were nothing to write home about?