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CULTURE DIGEST: Jimmy Carter convenes New Baptist Covenant II

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- The New Baptist Covenant II convened in Atlanta to provide "an alternative voice to more strident Baptist voices," but observers said the number of supporters had plummeted dramatically since the first such gathering nearly four years ago.

Former President Jimmy Carter led the event at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta, and guest speakers included Tony Campolo and Marian Wright Edelman, both champions of social justice.

Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, noted that only about 250 people attended the conference Nov. 17-19, compared to estimates of 15,000 at the Georgia World Congress Center in 2008.

Churches in eight cities served as satellite venues for the latest event, yet Tooley mentioned a couple of sites where only a handful of people had gathered.

Participants discussed ways to combat problems such as poverty, inequity and the rising prison population, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, and Carter noted that seven of the nine satellite churches were predominantly black congregations.

Among the topics Carter addressed were campaign finance reform, immigration policy, Palestinian statehood, global warming, Islam and rebuilding Haiti, a New Baptist Covenant news release reported.

Issues such as the role of women, homosexuality, abortion, the death penalty and the separation of church and state, while important, should not divide churches, Carter said.

Tooley, in his commentary on the event, said the primary call of the New Baptist Covenant, though ostensibly to unite Baptists around shared values, "seems to be animus towards the more conservative Southern Baptist Convention."


"This Carter-led effort seems to want Baptists to become like liberal Episcopalians or the United Church of Christ," Tooley wrote Nov. 17. "But churches that follow that disastrous path of substituting liberal politics for the Gospel always spiral in membership and vitality....

"Hopefully most Baptists will not be seduced into this rehash of the old-time Social Gospel," Tooley wrote.

TODDLER WITH DOWN SYNDROME SHINES IN MODELING -- Taya Kennedy is only 14 months old and has Down syndrome -- and is a new star in the British modeling world.

Urban Angels, a highly regarded model agency in England, recently chose Taya as one of 50 children to sign to contracts from 2,000 applicants, the Daily Mail reported Nov. 27. Already, retailers are lining up to place her in their advertisements.

"Taya is an incredibly photogenic, warm and smiley child, and that shines through in her photographs," Urban Angels owner Alysia Lewis said, according to the British newspaper.

"That she has did not enter the equation," Lewis said. "We chose her because of her vibrancy and sense of fun. Not all children are comfortable in front of a lens and with a photographer looking at them -- especially when they are so young. But Taya was so relaxed and happy. She was just what we were looking for."

Taya's mother, Gemma Andre, told the Daily Mail, "I always believed my daughter was stunning but I thought, 'I'm her mum. I'm biased.'


"When the agency rang me and said, 'We want her on our books. She's absolutely beautiful,' I was delighted.

"I asked them if they were aware she had . They said: 'It's immaterial. We've accepted her.' At that moment I burst into tears. I was overjoyed, not so much because Taya was going to be a model. More importantly, she had competed on equal terms with every other child and succeeded."

A person with Down syndrome normally has 47 chromosomes instead of 46, with the additional chromosome an extra copy of the 21st chromosome.

With the advent of methods of diagnosing children's genetic conditions in the womb, many unborn babies who have Down syndrome -- or appear to have the condition -- have been aborted. It is estimated about 90 percent of unborn children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted.

ATHEISTS EMBRACE RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS -- Some atheist scientists with children embrace religious traditions for social and personal reasons, a study by Rice University has found.

"Our research shows just how tightly linked religion and family are in U.S. society -- so much so that even some of society's least religious people find religion to be important in their private lives," Elaine Howard Ecklund, a Rice sociologist and coauthor of the study, said.

Research indicated that 17 percent of atheists with children attended a religious service more than once during the past year, and some atheist scientists said they want their children to know about different religions in order to determine their own preferences.


Among the reasons atheists integrate religion into their lives:

-- Scientific identity: Those surveyed wanted to expose their children to all sources of knowledge and allow them to make their own choices about a religious identity.

-- Spousal influence: Some were involved in a religious institution because of the influence of their spouse or partner.

-- Desire for community: Some atheists wanted a sense of moral community and behavior, even if they didn't agree with the religious reasoning.

"We thought that these individuals might be less inclined to introduce their children to religious traditions, but we found the exact opposite to be true," Ecklund said in a news release Dec. 1.

Complied by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach and Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.

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Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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