Saturday, February 02, 2008

Carter leads effort to unite moderate Baptists

Richard Fausset of the Los Angeles Times writes from Plains, Ga.: "Jimmy Carter still spends much of his time injecting himself into the nastiest spats on the planet. But most Sundays, the 83-year-old former president manages to be back here in the tiny city where he was raised. He does not like to skip Sunday school. He gives his Bible lessons at Maranatha Baptist Church, an unassuming red-brick chapel on the outskirts of town." (Walter Petruska photo)

A lesson the day Fausset visited was Jesus' directive that we love our enemies as we love ourselves. "That directive has driven Carter to try his hand at healing the rifts between the great antagonists of the last half-century: Arab and Jew, Cuban and American, Hutu and Tutsi," Fausset writes. "For his efforts, he has been honored with the Nobel Peace Prize and derided as a quixotic fool. But there is one divisive row that is perhaps the most personal for Carter, and his failure to heal it has haunted him for years. It is the rift between liberals and conservatives within his own religion."

Wednesday night in Atlanta, Carter opened a three-day meeting "meant to unite moderate Baptists across racial and theological lines and show their tradition goes beyond conservative Southern Baptist beliefs," writes Rachel Zoll of The Associated Press.

Southern Baptist Convention leaders refused to attend. Carter personally invited President Frank Page, who said the meeting had a "smoke-screen, left-wing, liberal agenda." Presidential candidiate Mike Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist minister and Arkansas governor, backed out, saying he feared the agenda would be "political rather than spiritual."

Healing the breach will be difficult because for many Baptists, religious identity has defined their personal identity. Fausset quotes Bill Leonard, dean of the divinity school at Wake Forest University and a liberal Baptist: "The curse and the genius of the Southern Baptist Convention for Carter's generation is that it inculcated a sense of Baptist identity that is so deep in people that it was hard to give up," said "It shaped your spirituality -- but also your own sense of who you were." (Read more)

Andre Walker reports today in Georgia Politics Unfiltered: "The three-day event ended last night with remarks from former President Clinton in which he discussed his faith and spoke of ways Baptists could come together" and said he was disappointed in Page's description of the conference "heaped praise" on Huckabee but said he was "sad Huckabee didn't come here." Clinton's remarks were the only partisan words of the conference, Carter said, but said they were not critical and he agreed with them. (Read more)

1 comment:

Joe said...

As one who attended the New Baptist Covenant, I quickly realized that is was in fact NOT political. There was so much press that utilized labels (liberal, moderate, etc.) that many who failed to attend missed out on the movement of God's Spirit throughout the seminar. God's Spirit was vitally present. And, of course, the media doesn't cover what we really talked about, probably because it was too liberal: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, reaching out to the strangers among us, loving one another in the name of Christ. Those sorts of liberal things.