President Jimmy Carter will be one of the featured speakers at the regional meeting of the New Baptist Covenant, a group he helped form, in Norman on August 7.
In a telephone interview with Oklahoma Gazette, Carter said the group is intentionally multiracial and is arranged around non-divisive areas of Baptist doctrine.
"The meeting in Atlanta last year was the first large-scale attempt since 1845 to bring black and white Baptists together," Carter said. "The New Baptist Covenant is bringing together black, white, Latino, and Asian, with no distinctions. I think the Oklahoma meeting will be the best attended by Latinos."
Carter said the surge in numbers of Latino Baptists is due to the increase in immigration and the trend in South and Central America toward Protestant forms of Christianity.
"Now you have Latinos making up a large percentage of the population, particularly in the Southwest, so we're seeing large numbers in active " even leadership " roles, especially in Texas."
Also slated to speak at the New Baptist Covenant meeting is Hanna Massad, pastor of Gaza Baptist Church in the Gaza Strip. Carter said he hopes Massad's presence will draw attention to the plight of Christians in and around the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, as well as other areas of the Middle East.
"When I went to the Holy Land for the first time in 1973 " I was governor then " there were 15 percent Christians among the Palestinians," Carter said. "Since then, Israel has used every pressure and inducement to reduce the number of Christians. As you know, the Gaza Strip is now only accessible through a very small opening, and this is an area that used to be free to enter and leave. Many Christian families have been able to secure travel to Europe; it's much easier for a Christian family to move than a Muslim family."
Carter said he estimates that there are now no more than 50,000 Christians in the area, many of whom are centered around Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Carter said the plight of Christians in the area is one that many of his fellow Baptists are unaware.
"When I talk to the Christian leaders in Israel and Gaza, they tell me that there is great pressure on them," Carter said. "It's important that their status be known. Unfortunately, some of our Baptist brothers join in a crusade to attack Palestinians, not realizing how many are Christians."
In addition to Carter and Massad, Gov. Brad Henry, First Lady Kim Henry and former Congressman J.C. Watts will be speaking at the New Baptist Covenant meeting. The meeting is scheduled for August 6 and 7 at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Convention Center in Norman. Carter is speaking at the 1:30 p.m., general session on August 7.
Carter said he will be giving his personal testimony, including his early life all the way up to his role in forming the New Baptist Covenant. The group brings Baptists of every background together to focus on issues of social justice, disaster relief, and benevolence. "Greg Horton
Photo courtesy The Carter Center.