No endorsement from BSC
February 2 2001 by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor

No endorsement from BSC | Friday, Feb. 2, 2001

Friday, Feb. 2, 2001

No endorsement from BSC

By Steve DeVane BR Managing Editor N.C. Baptists didn't receive an e-mail similar to the one the South Carolina state convention sent encouraging pastors to support the cabinet nomination of John Ashcroft. And they shouldn't expect to receive similar requests in the future.

"We have never, as a state convention, endorsed any political candidate, nor will we," said Doug Cole, team leader of the Baptist State Convention (BSC) of North Carolina's Christian Life Team. "It is a violation of our position in support of separation of church and state."

Cole added that the BSC doesn't endorse nominees for cabinet positions.

The Senate confirmed Ashcroft as U.S. attorney general Feb. 1 by a 58-42 vote that fell mainly along party lines.

The BSC's position stands in contrast to an e-mail message sent to Baptist pastors in South Carolina by Cole's counterpart in the state convention there.

The e-mail urged pastors to "alert South Carolinians" from their pulpits about "the need to flood" the office of Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., with requests to confirm former Sen. John Ashcroft's nomination for attorney general, according to a news release from the Baptist Center for Ethics (BCE).

"Please call Sen. Hollings' Washington office ... ask him to support Ashcroft's nomination," wrote Joe Mack, director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC) Christian Life Concerns Department. "I am asking all pastors to make this announcement from the pulpit this Sunday and to provide the senator's phone number to the congregation."

The e-mail appeared on SCBC stationery and listed Hollings' Washington office telephone number, the BCE said. Hollings had announced his opposition to Ashcroft, according to news reports.

Fred Andrea, pastor of First Baptist Church in Aiken, S.C., told BCE that the SCBC's encouragement to endorse Ashcroft violates Baptist polity.

"It raises the hair on the back of my Baptist neck," he said. "Identifying the election of a candidate with the specific will of God is dangerously un-Baptist behavior."

The SCBC later issued another e-mail seeking to clarify the earlier message, the BCE reported.

Scott Vaughan, marketing director for the SCBC, said the Jan. 26 memorandum was not an endorsement of Ashcroft but a protest against Hollings' announcement that he would not confirm Ashcroft.

The earlier e-mail was "without official clearance from the Convention," wrote Vaughan.

"Mr. Mack's e-mail encouraged you to lead your church in protest of Sen. Hollings decision," wrote Vaughan. "Any decision you make to engage the political process, including the confirmation of Mr. Ashcroft, will be an independent decision of yourself and your local congregation."

The SCBC's first memorandum said that the Washington office of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention asked the Christian Life Concerns Department to send the "alert" to pastors of S.C. Baptist congregations, the BCE said.

"Only the dead can now doubt the sad reality that the fundamentalist-controlled Southern Baptist Convention is joined at the hip to the right wing of the Republican Party," said Robert Parham, the executive director of the Nashville-based BCE.

The ERLC had earlier endorsed Ashcroft's nomination, the first such move for the agency. Richard Land, the head of the ERLC, said the agency doesn't endorse candidates for elected office because Baptists can vote on those positions, but the endorsement of the nomination was made since Baptists couldn't vote on it.

In a letter to senators about the nomination, Land said he was endorsing Ashcroft "on behalf of the vast majority of over 16 million Southern Baptists nationwide."

Cole said he received an e-mail regarding Ashcroft's nomination from the ERLC.

"What they've done basically is to ask you to lobby members of the (Senate) Judiciary Committee" on Ashcroft's behalf, Cole said. The BSC did not forward the e-mail to other believers, as the ERLC requested.

"We do not endorse the ERLC's stand on this," Cole said. "We don't endorse any one nominee in any way."

He said his team speaks to N.C. Baptists, not for them. "We always remind churches and associations that it is against the Internal Revenue Service code for them to endorse one candidate over another," Cole said.

Churches can hold political forums and distribute information as long as they include all candidates, he said. His team encourages Tar Heel Baptists to become well informed and vote their consciences, he said.

But the BSC won't tell Tar Heel Baptists who to vote for or who to support.

"It's not the Baptist way," Cole said.

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
2/2/2001 12:00:00 AM by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments
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