Carter boasts SBC ties at Baptist Covenant

ATLANTA (BP)--Former President Jimmy Carter expressed hopes for cooperation between moderate and liberal Baptists and the Southern Baptist Convention and boasted of a "wonderful relationship" with the SBC president on the opening day of the "New Baptist Covenant Celebration" in Atlanta.

"I've had a wonderful relationship with the president of the Southern Baptist Convention," Carter said at a news conference Jan. 30. "I wrote him a letter about a month or so ago explaining the purpose and the commitment that we've made for it to be all-inclusive or non-critical. And I received a very wonderful, positive letter from him this week, which I shared with Bill [Underwood] and with Jimmy [Allen] and others.

"And so that was an early rumor that it was designed for political purposes, but there will be no political elements ... of this assembly if all of us leaders can prevent it."

SBC President Frank Page, who was not present at Atlanta gathering, said in a news release Jan. 24 that while he will pray for the meeting, he is skeptical about some participants' motives.

"Early on, I reacted to one of the other organizer's early comment that the primary reason for this meeting was to take the microphone away from conservative Baptists who had held it for too long," Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., said. "I continue to be concerned as to at least some participants' motives for this event. However, I have assured President Carter of my prayers for this meeting."

Carter added that he will report to Page after the New Baptist Covenant meeting.

"We would like very much for them to join in with us," he said of the SBC. "And I'll be reaching out personally to Frank Page, who happens to be the president, after this assembly to give him a report. And also as we assess the kind of projects that we will undertake, it would be my hope and prayer that we could cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention.

At the same news conference Carter responded to a question about Richard Land, president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, charging that the New Baptist Covenant meeting has a tacit political agenda.

"I haven't tried to communicate directly with Richard Land, but [Mercer University President] Bill [Underwood] has," Carter said. Underwood "explained the purpose of it [the meeting]. And so I think the results of this meeting and what happens here will be the best answer to your question. There is no need for me to repeat. We're doing everything we can, and have for the last two years, to avoid any sort of racial division or philosophical division or theological division or geographical division or political division here."

Page earlier had expressed hopes that Carter's promise of a "non-critical" meeting will prove true.

"In recent communication, he expressed his deep desire that this meeting be nonpolitical and Christ-honoring," Page said of Carter. Page added, "I always affirm bodies of believers who gather for that reason. My promise of prayer support continues to be that this meeting will exalt the name of Christ, will point human beings toward the need for a personal relationship with Christ who alone can bring salvation."

David Roach is pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Ky., and a Ph.D. candidate at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

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