North American Mission Board officials defended inviting a Catholic speaker to a conference aimed at helping college students and young professionals merge faith with daily life.
Howard Roszak of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Paisley, Fla., wrote a letter to the editor published Jan. 8 in the Florida Baptist Witness questioning the invitation of talk-show host Sean Hannity, a Roman Catholic, to the upcoming “Elevate 2004” conference in Charlotte, N.C.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Roszak said he learned of the program using “celebrity status speakers” while surfing the NAMB’s Web site.
“A high ranking NAMB official told me that one of the Catholic speakers would be ‘sharing about the need for young adults to use what God has given them, to stand up and make their voice heard if we are to return America to her conservative, faith-based roots.’
“My question is ‘Why do we need a Catholic to do this?'”
Roszak said Hannity’s audience wouldn’t be able to “emulate” his Catholic faith, unless, “Maybe NAMB would like us to start praying the Rosary and celebrating Mass!”
“In one breath NAMB’s Interfaith Department tells us that Catholics are lost and in need of a Christian witness. In another breath they tell us that we need them to teach us and encourage us in the faith,” he said.
Invited by the Florida paper to respond to Roszak’s letter, NAMB spokesman Martin King explained that Hannity would not be “teaching” Southern Baptists in matters of faith “but will address the need to return our nation to its conservative roots.”
“We as Southern Baptists have clearly defined where we stand theologically, and from such positions we will not move or compromise,” King, NAMB’s director of convention relations, said. “At the same time to change our nation’s culture we must be willing to work together on social and political issues with those who share our values—regardless of their denominational preference. We have long stood with others on preserving conservative values such as First Amendment rights and opposing such things as abortion, gambling and pornography. It is standing for such conservative values and against that which undermines our society that will be addressed by Mr. Hannity.”
A press release described Hannity, host of a radio show with 10 million listeners and co-host of Fox News Channel’s “Hannity and Colmes,” as a “gutsy talk show host” who “always lands on the ‘right side’ of the issues.”
“In this post-9/11, post-Enron world there is a cultural mandate for congruency between life, faith and work–three areas people take very seriously. Elevate is the response to this mandate. It’s a key gathering specifically tailored for young executives, professionals, managers, entrepreneurs and leaders who share faith in Christ and represent this emerging segment of corporate America,” NAMB says in the press release.
Billed as “the largest workplace ministries conference ever,” Elevate costs $89 for an all-event pass to all seminars and workshops. A limited-seating breakfast with Hannity Feb. 20 costs another $69.
Hannity isn’t alone on the “right” side among the program’s celebrity speakers, which include Republican governors Sonny Perdue of Georgia and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, GOP political strategist Ralph Reed and Jay Sekulow of Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice.
Janet Parshall, a conservative radio talk-show host, introduced herself at the Elevate meeting in Dallas as “your embedded [culture] war correspondent from Babylon,” according to Baptist Press.
Parshall encouraged the audience to support politicians who hold Christian values and to become personally involved in politics. If the logic behind the separation of politics and religion were true, she said, then Christians wouldn’t get involved in business, education or entertainment, either.
“We would be involved in nothing,” Parshall said. “We would sit in our pews on Sunday morning, and we would sit there in absolute isolation.”
King’s statement in the Florida Baptist Witness quoted SBC president Jack Graham, who spoke at the first Elevate 2004 conference Jan. 22-24 in Dallas and is on the program for the Charlotte meeting, scheduled Feb. 19-21.
“Elevate is not for the preacher boy or the missionary but rather for the student and the professional who may not be going to seminary but will be prepared to go to the marketplace to engage a culture that desperately needs Jesus,” Graham said.
NAMB President Robert Reccord said in press release the purpose of Elevate is to “is to blur the lines between life at work, life at home, and life with Christ” by connecting with Christians ages 18-19 who are “searching for a faith that’s infused with their everyday world.”
A TV station reported that nearly 5,000 people attended the Dallas event, which featured a screening of Mel Gibson’s upcoming “The Passion of the Christ.” Reccord told NAMB trustees last fall that he hoped a combined 14,000 young adults would attend the two three-day events.
More information about the conference is available at www.elevate2004.com.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.