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Baptists Discuss AIDS, a New American Voice and Religious Liberty in Mexico

An estimated 64,000 people worldwide will die from AIDS, and 88,000 will be newly infected during the week-long meeting to the Baptist World Alliance in Mexico City, said a presenter in a forum on AIDS/HIV ministries.

A program leader said 2006 is the 25th anniversary of the start of this pandemic disease.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Another forum leader, a former Baptist missionary, said churches still talk about AIDS/HIV as a gay disease, as God’s judgment.
 
The presenter said churches rather need to talk more about AIDS without judgmentalism and stigma.
 
The church did a wonderful job responding to the tsunami disaster, the forum leader said, but every few weeks AIDS deaths equal to total death toll from the tsunami.
 
The presenter said church leaders need to acknowledge their failure on the AIDS/HIV front.
 
The forum, part of a new meeting paradigm, was conducted under press rules disallowing direct quotes or attribution.
 
At an on-the-record meeting of the North American Baptist Fellowship, one of the BWA’s regional bodies, delegates took a nonbinding vote for the NABF to provide institutional support for a convocation of Baptists first proposed in April by a group of Baptist leaders who met at Jimmy Carter’s invitation.
 
One <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />CarterCenter participant, David Goatley, executive secretary/treasurer of the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention, said Baptists of North America have an “opportunity to be more intentional about collaborating, to be more intentional about nurturing our networks in different places.”
 
Goatley said North American Baptists with more intentionality could create “better synergy” for “a more united, more positive Baptist voice.”
 
He said that the convocation under consideration would be held at the end of 2007. No meeting place was suggested.
 
The convocation would accomplish three things, Goatley said.
 
“It would be an opportunity for a diverse North America Baptist family to come together for worship and celebration of our oneness in Jesus Christ,” he said.
 
Second, the convocation would “challenge one another to collaborate in some public witness and impact” initiatives, said Goatley, who is the newly elected NABF president.
 
Third, the gathering is a “way of lift up models of effective ministry,” giving them great exposure, said Goatley.
 
“This is a very tentative movement at this point,” he said. “But it is one that seems to have some real possibility.”
 
This is a “group that is talking but really doesn’t have any place to find a home,” said Goatley.
 
Delegates spoke affirmatively about NABF providing institutional support, if the convocation is not driven by the “woundedness” of moderate Southern Baptists over their loss of control of the Southern Baptist Convention.
 
NABF’s executive committee will explore the possibility of providing institutional support at its January 2007 meeting.
 
While North American Baptists considered a new voice, other Baptists were more concerned about religious liberty.
 
Alvaro Castro, director of religious affairs for the Mexican government, spoke about Mexico’s commitment to religious liberty at a joint meeting of the Freedom and Justice Commission and the Baptist Heritage Commission.
 
Through a translator, Castro said religious liberty represents one of the cornerstones of Mexican society and that the international rights of religious people are fully protected.
 
Castro said religious people are protected from discrimination and allowed the right to do religious work such as education and health care.
 
“Mexico is a country which is of laypeople … under the regime of the separation of state and church,” said Castro.
 
Robert Parham is executive director of the BaptistCenter for Ethics.
 
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