Jimmy Carter says he can
'no longer be associated' with the SBC
___By Greg Warner
___Associated Baptist Press
___ATLANTA (ABP)--Former President Jimmy Carter, Southern Baptists' most famous layman, says he feels "excluded" by the Southern Baptist Convention and "can no longer be associated" with the nation's largest Protestant denomination.
___As a candidate in 1976 who introduced the term "born again" into the political lexicon, as a president who was criticized for witnessing to world leaders, as a goodwill ambassador through his work with Habitat for Humanity and as a Sunday school teacher at his small church in Plains, Ga., Carter has been one of the most visible and respected Southern Baptists for 25 years.
___But in a letter and press statement released Oct. 19, Carter lamented the new "creedal" direction taken by the SBC. He said the recent changes in the Baptist Faith & Message doctrinal statement are "profound and revolutionary" and reflect "an increasingly rigid SBC creed."
___"I had never been involved in the political struggle for control of the SBC and have no desire to do so," Carter wrote in the letter, which was mailed to 75,000 Baptists nationwide by the moderate group Texas Baptists Committed. He said he was disappointed that his effort two years ago to promote dialogue between SBC factions failed. "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."
___"This is a torturous decision to make," Carter added in an interview. "I do it with anguish and not with any pleasure." Carter, 76, said he could no longer "add my name and my support" to SBC efforts because its leaders "have departed from what I believe."
___He decided to go public with his decision after meeting, at his initiation, with moderate Baptist leaders from Texas, Virginia and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
___"This is strictly personal for me," he told ABP. "I am not trying to speak for my church.
I'm not going to mount a crusade against anybody. We've had enough of that."
___He said he will remain a deacon and Sunday school teacher at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains and support the church's recent decision to send half of its missions contributions to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
___In his press release, Carter said he and his wife, Rosalynn, want to associate with "other traditional Baptists who continue to share such beliefs as separation of church and state, servanthood and not domination of pastors, local church autonomy, a free religious press and equality of women."
___He lamented the SBC's departure from those beliefs and the exclusion of those who disagree from service in the convention.
___"Over the years, leaders of the convention have adopted an increasingly rigid creed, called a Baptist Faith & Message, including some provisions that violate the basic tenets of my Christian faith," Carter said. "These premises have become mandatory criteria that must be accepted by employees, by members of committees who control the convention's affairs and by professors who teach in the SBC-owned seminaries. Obviously, this can have a far-reaching and permanent effect."
___Carter told ABP that one particular change in the 2000 doctrinal statement "overrides and explains the other concerns I have"--the SBC's decision to eliminate language that identifies Jesus Christ as "the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted."
___"Most disturbing has been the convention's recent decision to remove Jesus Christ, through his words, deeds and personal inspiration, as the ultimate interpreter of the Holy Scriptures," he explained in his press release. "This leaves open making the pastors or executives of the SBC the ultimate interpreters."
___The revisions to the SBC's official doctrinal statement in 1998 and this year have become a line in the sand for many moderates after years of being excluded from denominational leadership. Among controversial changes is a 1998 amendment on the family that calls for women to submit to their husbands. Additional revisions adopted this year weaken references to the doctrine of soul competency and state that women cannot be pastors in local churches.
___SBC conservatives defend the narrower language as reflecting the views of most Southern Baptists and as necessary to guard the denomination against liberalism, which they claim infiltrated seminaries and agencies during the 1960s and 1970s.
___Moderates in Texas and elsewhere, however, say the new Baptist Faith & Message turns the Bible into an idol by placing it on an equal plane with Christ. They also say announced plans to use the new statement to ensure "doctrinal accountability" violate Baptists' historic aversion to creeds.
___In his letter, Carter said, as a Georgia Baptist, he is "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," he wrote.
___In the letter, Carter endorses a taped message by Charles Wade, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Copies of the tape are included with the mass mailing.
___On the tape, Wade pledges that neither the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message nor its predecessor, the 1963 version, will be imposed as a creed on Texas Baptists. "We need no creed to define what the Bible says, and we need no confession of faith if it is going to be used as a creed."
___"It's a painful thing when people try to dismiss you because you don't 'believe the Bible,'" he added. "I challenge anybody to make that charge stick against Texas Baptists. But I want you to understand we do not worship the Bible. We worship God revealed in Jesus Christ, recorded in Scripture so that we might know him."
___Carter initiated a meeting in Plains Sept. 28 with David Currie, director of Texas Baptist Committed, and Becky Matheny, director of the moderate Georgia Baptist Heritage Council, during which he shared his convictions about the SBC.
___"We said, 'It would be great for Baptists to know how you felt,'" Currie recalled. "He said he was thinking about sending a letter to folks. That's where the idea of linking the (letter and tape) came together."
___Carter's letter and Wade's 45-minute tape were mailed beginning Oct. 18 to Texas Baptist Committed's national mailing list at a cost of more than $75,000, Currie said. Donations were received from the Georgia Baptist Heritage Council and a few individuals--including $2,000 from the Carters--to cover about half the cost, he said. The rest will be borrowed and repaid with future donations.
___Currie said the mailing was not intended to influence the Texas vote, but that might be a welcome byproduct. It may also motivate people in other states, he said. "We just want as many people as possible to listen to this tape and realize that the SBC has deserted every historic Baptist principle that Baptists have been committed to," he said.
___Carter said in the interview that the recent decision by directors of the Christian Index, the Georgia Baptist newspaper, to restrict articles and ads promoting the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship "is improper and a violation of freedom of press."
___"The fact is that almost every one in Georgia who gives money to CBF is also giving to the Georgia Baptist Convention. And the Christian Index is supposed to represent all Georgia Baptists."
___"I don't like that at all," he continued. "That's just a forerunner of things that are pending and just a further imposition of the creed."
___Carter, who in office and since has distinguished himself as a negotiator and reconciler among troubled nations, said he was disappointed that his 1997-98 attempt to bring reconciliation among Southern Baptists failed.
___While parties seeking peace can make progress if they are flexible and mutually respectful, he said, "sometimes there is a total recalcitrance that prohibits progress," like the Arab-Israeli disagreement over control of East Jerusalem.
___Such an impediment to peace now exists in the SBC, he suggested. The new strictures adopted by Southern Baptists mean that "if you don't accept these premises, then you cannot be a part of the Southern Baptist Convention."
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