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1 Southern Baptists Express Mixed View of Obama on Wed Jun 24, 2009 3:22 pm

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Southern Baptists Express Mixed View of Obama
Leaders of the nation's largest Protestant denomination voted in favor of a resolution to "share our nation's pride" in President Obama's historic victory but said at their national meeting on Wednesday that they oppose his views on abortion and other social issues.
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AP

Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Southern Baptists praised the election of President Obama but said at their national meeting on Wednesday that they oppose his views on abortion and other social issues.

Leaders of the nation's largest Protestant denomination voted in favor of a resolution to "share our nation's pride" in Obama's historic victory.

"I think it would have actually been irresponsible for us not to speak to the election of the first African American president," said Daniel Akin, president of the Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

But Akin said Southern Baptists have "strong disagreement" with many of the new president's policies. The resolution decried Obama's support of abortion rights, embryonic stem-cell research and the reduction of funding for abstinence education.

Richard Land, who leads the convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said the resolution "has its hand on the pulse beat of where Southern Baptists are." Land said most Southern Baptists didn't vote for Obama in November.

"But at the same time, they are very gratified that we have had enough racial reconciliation in America that we've come to the place where we can elect an African American president," Land said.

The Southern Baptist denomination was formed out of a dispute with northern Baptists over slavery in 1845. A century and a half later, the convention apologized for "perpetuating individual and systemic racism" in a 1995 resolution.

Land said in 1995, there were 347,000 black Southern Baptist members. That number had grown to 790,000 by 2007, he said.

"We've gone from being a virtually all-white denomination by choice as recently as 1970 (to being) a denomination that's a little over 18 percent ethnic now," he said. "We've made some substantial progress."

But the Obama resolution is unlikely to help attract minorities to the denomination, said Nancy T. Ammerman, an author and religion professor at Boston University's School of Theology. Ammerman said local Southern Baptist churches play a much greater role in the recruitment of new members.

"Does a particular local church have programs and styles of worship that are appealing? And in most cases, for African Americans looking at Southern Baptist churches, the answer is no," Ammerman said. "Beyond that, however, one such statement is unlikely to overcome the deep cultural heritage of separation and suspicion."

The resolution also commended Obama for "his evident love for his family" and his "decisions to retain many foreign policies that continue to keep our nation safe."

Akin, who headed the convention's resolutions committee, said he and convention president Johnny Hunt were trying to keep political squabbles to a minimum at this year's convention.

Hunt said leaders did not invite Obama to address the convention this year, as they had done for former President George W. Bush in recent years. Hunt said they also declined to invite top Republicans to speak, signaling a desire to stay out of politics.

Akin said there were only two proposed resolutions concerning Obama this year, in contrast to the national meeting after President Bill Clinton's election in 1992. Akin said at that convention, there were more than 20 proposed resolutions that mentioned Clinton, who is also a Southern Baptist.

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