FROM JIMMY CARTER
following is a personal reflection from President Jimmy
Carter as a Baptist layman. He also promotes the hearing
of an explanation by Dr. Charles Wade, Executive Director
of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
To My Fellow Baptists,
Like millions of other
Baptists, I have been deeply distressed by the unpleasant and
counterproductive divisions within our denomination. In November
1997 and March 1998, invited two dozen Baptist leaders to The
Carter Center, in an attempt to overcome differences that were
impeding our common mission "to bring about a spiritual
awakening in our nation and around the world."
The group who attended
included six presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention and
leaders of the Women's Missionary Union, American Baptists,
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Texas and Virginia Baptist
Conventions, and other prominent organizations. We finally agreed
on a common statement, pledging ourselves to a concerted prayer
effort, mutual respect for each other, a spirit of racial reconciliation,
unfettered religious liberty, and "to seek other ways to
cooperate to achieve common goals, without breaching our Baptist
polity or theological integrity, in order that people may come
to know Christ as Savior, and so that God may be glorified in
ever increasing measure."
I had never been involved
in the political struggle for control
of the SBC, and have no desire to do so. My hope was
that, as a traditional
Baptist layman, I could find some channel through which I could
help fulfill our Christian commitments. But since that brief
interlude of apparent harmony, I have been disappointed and
feel excluded by the adoption of policies and an increasingly
rigid SBC creed, including
some provisions that violate the basic premises of my Christian
faith. I have finally decided that, after 65 years, I can no
longer be associated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
What am I to do? I'll
certainly continue in my role as a deacon and Sunday School
teacher at Maranatha Baptist Church and support sending half
our mission contribution to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
In addition to our fellow church members, Rosalynn and I have
been trying to identify other traditional Baptists who share
such beliefs as separation of church and state, servanthood
of pastors, priesthood of believers, a free religious press,
and equality of women. We agree with the adherence of most Texas
Baptists, Virginia Baptists, and members of CBF to these principles
as expressed in the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message.
As Georgia Baptists,
we are quite concerned by the effort of SBC leaders to impose
their newly adopted creed on our state convention. Our prayer
is that we can avoid this divisive action, and adhere to the
traditional beliefs that, for generations, have sustained our
ancestors and us in a spirit of unity and cooperation.
Not having any religious
or theological training, I am not qualified to explain how profound
and revolutionary are the changes in the Baptist Faith
and Message that are being proposed to unsuspecting Baptists.
The best explanation that I have heard is by Dr. Charles Wade,
Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas,
who attended our meetings at The Carter Center almost three
years ago. I hope you will listen carefully to this tape of
his remarks concerning the creedal decisions of the 2000 SBC
assembly, and share it with others who might help to preserve
the Baptist heritage that is so precious to us.