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Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service

Leaders of an upcoming Baptist unity celebration have denied two Baptist organizations an official role in the event because they support gay rights.
The Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists and the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America learned in mid-July that they could not be “participating organizations” of the “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant” that has been endorsed by former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and will be held in Atlanta from Jan. 30 to Feb 1, 2008.
The Rev. Alan Stanford, general secretary of the North American Baptist Fellowship, said fellowship officials decided the groups could not be members of the fellowship and thus could not be formal sponsors of the event.
“We agreed that we would work together on the things that we had broad consensus on, and that is certainly not an issue that there is broad consensus on,” Stanford said.
“It’s not negative about those organizations. It’s just beyond the scope of what the different chief executive officers of the North American Baptist Fellowship … felt comfortable doing together.”
The Rev. Ken Pennings, executive director of the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists, said his group had looked forward to working on addressing poverty with the other Baptist groups.
“We asked to be a participating organization because we value the same things the New Baptist Covenant values,” he said. “This is not a new covenant at all. This is the old covenant of exclusion, people being excluded based on their … belief system.”
Evelyn Hanneman, leader of the Baptist Peace Fellowship, said her group considers the rights of gays and lesbians to be “an incredibly important justice issue that needs to be addressed” even if it can be divisive.
Hanneman and Pennings expect members of their groups will still participate in the event, in part because they also have ties to some of the Baptist groups that are considered participating organizations.
Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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