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The 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.


Jimmy Carter