by Max Brantley
The Washington Post studies the political dimensions (including Mike Huckabee's refusal to attend) of a coming meeting in Atlanta of moderate Baptist groups. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are leaders of the effort and several prominent Republican politicians will attend. But a Baptist group meet without rancor? Hardly.
"In the public eye . . . Baptists only seem to be either denouncing somebody or fighting among themselves," said Bill Leonard, dean of Wake Forest Divinity School, a member of the conference's program committee. "And there is a new generation of Baptist ministers -- conservative and liberal -- who are tired of that."
But fissures are already appearing in the delicate coalition. Baptists who support gay rights are unhappy at being blocked from an official role, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has backed out after Carter made remarks against President Bush, and there are complaints that the meeting is taking on political overtones.
And leaders of the 16.3 million-member Southern Baptist Convention aren't attending, saying it is aimed solely at boosting support for the Democratic Party.
...Organizers have high hopes for the gathering, which will focus on promoting evangelism, dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic, fighting poverty, reforming the criminal justice system, and other social issues.