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Comment at BCE Luncheon Prompts Response

A throwaway line at last month’s Baptist Center for Ethics 15th anniversary luncheon earned the attention of Fox News and rebuttal on a conservative Web site.

In his June 22 keynote address at the Atlanta meeting, Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, quipped that his organization is trying to “address fear, fundamentalism and Fox television.”

Edgar has used the line before, but Fox News reported it as an “attack” and “challenge,” linking to an NCC news release about the speech and inviting Fox News Web readers to e-mail their thoughts.

A follow-up NCC release said Edgar’s comments “hit a nerve” with Fox editors, noting that about 4,000 Fox viewers visited the NCC Web site to read the message. While most reactions criticized Edgar, the NCC said a surprising number of Fox viewers believed he hit the nail on the head.

The conservative Front Page Magazine wrongly reported July 13 that Edgar’s made the remark “while speaking at the 15th anniversary luncheon of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s (CBF) General Assembly on June 23.”

The Baptist Center for Ethics luncheon was an auxiliary event at the June 21-24 CBF General Assembly in Atlanta, but CBF was not the sponsor. The BCE, based in Nashville, Tenn., is listed as a “partner” organization of the Atlanta-based CBF, but they function independently. CBF had no input into planning the BCE program.

The confusion likely resulted from wording of an NCC news release, rewritten from reporting by EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s Web site, to put a reference to CBF in the lead. The NCC story placed Edgar’s remarks “during” the CBF General Assembly at a luncheon that “honored” the BCE.

The author of the Front Page article, Mark Tooley, suggested Edgar’s presence contradicted the CBF’s self-definition as a moderate or centrist organization. “Although professing to be ‘moderate,’ the CBF’s choice of the left-wing Edgar as a speaker¬†confirms the suspicions of conservative Southern Baptists about the CBF,” he wrote.

Tooley directs the United Methodist committee of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative organization that advocates “renewal” of mainline churches and is frequent critic of Edgar and the NCC.

A popular Southern Baptist blog commended the article: “For those who think conservative Baptists are the only Baptists who are political, Mark Tooley writes about an interesting speech delivered to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, where the speaker was reading from his Democrat Party talking points.”

Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics responded that “BCE always welcomes the opportunity to make the crooked way straight, a Christian virtue apparently unshared by Fox News, Front Page Magazine, the Institute on Religion and Democracy and fundamentalist bloggers.”

“Had any of these groups bothered to check the facts, they would have readily found that the original news story came from BCE’s Web site, Ethicsdaily.com,” Parham said. “They would not have relied on a secondary story. They would not have labeled Bob Edgar’s remarks as an ‘attack from the Bully Pulpit.’ They would have found that Edgar spoke at a BCE luncheon, not the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. They would have found that Edgar offered a prophetic critique of American politics, not an exclusive attack on the Bush administration.”

A page in the CBF press kit said views expressed at auxiliary events coinciding with the General Assembly “do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of, or endorsement by, the Fellowship of its members.”

BCE staff offered for news stories about the luncheon written for EthicsDaily.com to be posted on the CBF’s Web site, but CBF did not include them in their coverage of General Assembly 2006 News.

Edgar, an ordained United Methodist minister, is a former Democratic congressman who served six terms in the House of Representatives. He is also a former pastor and president of a theology school.

The bulk of Edgar’s message at the BCE luncheon was that Christians can learn to live together around values that Jesus taught: peace, poverty, respect for Planet Earth, people’s rights and commitment to pluralism.

Tooley’s translation: “In other words, following Jesus means opposing the Bush administration.”

Parham said too many Christians regrettably “confuse the president with Providence” and “America’s agenda with God’s Kingdom.”

“They wrongly see any prophetic witness as anti-Bush, rather than questioning if Bush’s agenda is faithful to the biblical values of peacemaking rather than war making; protecting the poor rather than enriching the rich; guarding creation rather than granting unbridled greed; preserving human rights rather than abusing human beings; and embracing those who differ rather than demonizing outsiders.”

“Regrettably, some Christians are idol-makers,” he said. “They make idols of the American way of life, rather than the Christian one. They are the ones who are theologically and morally confused about how Christians ought to engage the state and culture.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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