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Reinvite Huckabee to Speak at New Baptist Covenant

Republican presidential candidate and Southern Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee needs to speak at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration on Wednesday night, Jan. 30, 2008, in Atlanta. He needs the support of goodwill Baptists–Baptists of goodwill need his support.

Having emerged as a national leader, Huckabee is the most visible Baptist Republican. He has shown courage and clarity with his statements on immigration and the environment that are clearly at odds with the Christian Right’s sub-Christian ideology of dislike for Hispanics and denial of global warming. Yet Huckabee has also enlisted an impressive base of support among fundamentalist Christians, who can surely learn from his moral vision about caring for the poor and the environment.

Huckabee withdrew from the NBC program in protest of Jimmy Carter saying that the Bush administration’s foreign policy “has been the worst in history.”

In our news story about Huckabee’s retreat, I speculated that he did so because he needed the support of Southern Baptist Convention leaders, who are not part of the NBC program.

“If Huckabee can’t stand up to Southern Baptist fundamentalists, how will he as president stand up to Islamic fundamentalists and corporate profiteers?” I asked. “I thought he was a more seasoned, self-defined Republican leader than what his hasty retreat from the New Baptist Covenant program shows.”

“During a recent Republican presidential debate, he was relaxed, respectful and humorous, looking more like Ronald Reagan than any other candidate,” I added.

“Today he sounds like a bewildered politician, who didn’t do his homework and buckled when criticized for involvement in a big-tent approach to real faith, hardly the characteristics needed in a president.”

In the wisdom of hindsight, I should have challenged Huckabee to consider the benefits from being on a high-profile program only a few days before the Georgia presidential primary. I should have urged him to be a Daniel in the midst of lions, or a lion in the midst of Daniels. I should have said that the NBC leaders ought immediately to ask him to reconsider his withdrawal.

Now there is another dynamic at work that should motivate NBC leaders to reinvite Huckabee to speak on Wednesday night and for Huckabee to accept.

Here it is: On the evening of Jan. 30, in the Georgia World Congress Center, two meetings are scheduled. First is the opening session of the NBC Celebration. Second is the 2008 Jefferson-Jackson Dinner of the Democratic Party of Georgia.

The DPG Web site says the dinner “is going to be an ambitious kick-off to a year of Democratic success in Georgia ¬¶. We’ve ¬¶extended invitations to all of the Democratic Presidential candidates. Response from the candidates has been positive, and we hope that they will all take this great opportunity to come to Georgia less than a week before our presidential primary.”

Given the predicted attendance of 20,000 Baptists in the Georgia World Congress Center and the nature of politicians to find a crowd, does anyone really think that Democratic presidential candidates will not bleed over to the NBC meeting? Of course, they will. What a splendid opportunity for them to press the flesh.

And what a media-rich opportunity for Huckabee: A presidential candidate on the same program with a former president (Jimmy Carter) in what will be described by the press as a less than supportive audience. Huckabee gets national media coverage and becomes the nightly story in Atlanta, showing his inclusive style and framing his moral vision. Goodwill Baptists get to hear firsthand the nation’s leading Baptist Republican. Everybody wins.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.