Four black Baptist groups whose churches were a training ground for prominent civil rights leaders but split partly over how that fight should be waged said Friday they are embarking on a new era of cooperation meant to put the concerns of their community atop the national agenda.
The National Baptist Convention USA, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Convention of America, and the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America hope to reclaim their historic role as leaders for broad social change. Among their top issues will be education, health care, jobs, and foreign policy.
They are now positioning themselves collectively as an antidote, not just for blacks but for all Americans, to what they call the narrow moral focus of President George W. Bush and his religious supporters.
Like white evangelicals, black Baptists generally oppose abortion and consider gay sex immoral. In the presidential race, Republicans made common cause with some black leaders over blocking gay marriage, hoping the issue would chip away at the overwhelming black support for Democrats.
However, the Baptist presidents said they would not highlight either issue for now because the topics are divisive and not a priority for their members, who face poverty, discrimination, and other pressing ills.
"We believe, and the numbers show it, that we have the power in terms of black registered voters across the country to make an impact," said the Reverend Stephen J. Thurston of Chicago, president of the National Baptist Convention of America.
His comments came at the end of the denominations' joint weeklong meeting--their first in at least 90 years. According to the convention presidents, the groups represent about 15 million Baptists nationwide. (AP)