For decades and even centuries, Baptists have been known for preaching the gospel, baptizing the converted, and, with their sheer numbers, shaping the face of American Christianity.

At the same time, their internal squabbles, racial and ideological splits, and sometimes controversial positions have cemented the impression that the thing Baptists most agree on is their penchant for disagreement.

Now, prominent Baptists hope an upcoming "Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant" in Atlanta (Jan. 30-Feb. 1) will help change that by focusing on what Baptists are for, not what they're against.

"We want to demonstrate to the world that Christians, including Baptists, can work in harmony, that we can accommodate differences of philosophy and theology," said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, a co-chairman of the celebration.

As they gather to focus on issues like caring for the poor and promoting peace, the big brother in the Baptist family, the Southern Baptist Convention, is not an official participant. Top leaders of the nation's largest Protestant denomination were not involved in the planning, but Carter has told Southern Baptist president Frank Page that "everybody's invited."

Last year, Page blasted what he called the group's "smoke screen left-wing liberal agenda," even as he appreciated efforts to help "a hurting world." In a recent interview, Page said he still has concerns, but promised Carter he would pray for the meeting, which he expects some Southern Baptists to attend.

"He has assured me that it will be a positive meeting and not be a conservative-bashing meeting," Page said of Carter. "I do pray that it will be a very positive, Christ-honoring meeting."

Organizers insist the event, which has more than 30 participating organizations, ...

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