Posts Tagged With: Jimmy Carter

A Jimmy Carter Kind of Baptist

After the positive Facebook and Blog responses to my experiences this past week in Plains, Georgia, with President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter, I’d like to say something about their Baptist-ness!

When Southern Baptists decided to alter their theology from conservative-moderate to conservative-fundamentalist about three decades ago, the Carters and I were among hundreds of thousands who decided to reclaim our Baptist heritage of freedom. We formed a new organization called the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

The “elevator speech” is that while the Southern Baptist denomination had previously allowed theological and ethical flexibility to individuals, churches, and seminaries in interpreting the Bible, the convention slammed that door shut and demanded a stricter adherence to a new party line. The new reality was a Bob Jones and Jerry Falwell fundamentalism: “This is the Truth and all other beliefs are False Doctrine.”

For example, seminary and theology professors were required to agree to the submissive role of females in families and society.

For example, science teachers at Baptist universities (Furman, Mercer, Baylor, etc.) were going to be required to teach graduate courses in geology and biology according to a seven-day creationist, anti-evolution, theory. The Grand Canyon was not formed over millions of years but as the result of a single giant flood. Dinosaurs and humans lived on the earth at the same time, regardless of the evidence of fossils. Don’t argue about this. The Authorities have spoken. The Authorities began to confuse themselves with God.

New documents were drawn up. Missionaries, professors, and denominational employees had to agree that they would adhere to these new mandates, no matter what either science or their consciences said. Men and women of integrity refused to sign on the dotted line. Some female professors were fired just because they were female. According to the new rules, women should never be in a position of authority over a man, and seminaries were full of male students.

It was a surreal few decades and the implosion of Southern Baptists is well documented.

The good news was the emergence of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. CBF became a home to many of us who had been disenfranchised. New seminaries and schools of divinity sprang up which retained the traditional freedoms that had been claimed by Baptists since their earliest days:

  • “Priesthood of the believer” is a biblical phrase Baptists use to declare that no one stands between an individual and God—no priest, no pope, no pastor, no denominational executive.
  • Autonomy of the local church. The term “Independent Baptist” church is redundant. No denomination can tell a Baptist congregation what to believe and enforce it. A Baptist congregation can call a woman pastor or sell its building. The permission of no denominational authority is needed.
  • Separation of church and state. The state cannot tell the church what to believe and the church cannot tell the state how to behave.

That’s it. My church or my denomination certainly has the right to fire me or kick me out, or create a witch-hunting climate that encourages good people to leave. That’s their freedom.

So, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, as well as a lot of friends I dearly love, and I stepped out in faith and began a new thing—the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. That was twenty-five years ago. We don’t always agree on doctrine or a particular interpretation of the Bible, or a favorite political candidate, but we rally around Jesus, as revealed in scripture, as best we understand him.

A different “elevator speech” many people understand is, “I’m a Jimmy Carter kind of Baptist.” People know and appreciate the kindhearted, caring, intelligent, honest, peacemaking, hardworking, idealistic, and humanitarian nature of our former President.

When people ask, I’m pleased to say, “I’m a Jimmy Carter kind of Baptist.”

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Quotations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Sunday School at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia

Here’s the bottom line of this blog: If you’ve never attended Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, to hear President Jimmy Carter teach Sunday school, you need to put that on your short term bucket list.

This is a unique experience. One-of-a-kind. Unparalleled. This humble Christian, former President of the most powerful nation on earth and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, stands in front of a sanctuary full (about 300 people) of pilgrims to Plains almost every Sunday. He delivers, without notes, his understanding of a selected Bible text.

Maranatha Baptist Church invited me to preach for them today (April 30) and next Sunday (May 7). Home from my four months in Connecticut, I gladly accepted.

Long an admirer of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, I’ve looked forward to being in Plains at the same time as the Carters so I could participate in Sunday school at Maranatha Baptist Church. My daughter Julie and I attended the Baptist World Alliance in Birmingham, England, in 2005, and President Carter taught the Sunday school lesson there to a couple thousand of us gathered in a civic arena of some sort. That was a good, but different, experience.

The church members of Maranatha, a small congregation, are the unsung heroes of this ministry. They arrive at the church as early as 5:30 on Sunday morning to begin their hospitality ministry to out-of-town, out-of-state, and out-of-country guests. This morning, worshipers gathered from half a dozen or more countries and twenty or thirty states. The locals are gracious in sharing their church with visitors from afar, as well as with Secret Service agents. Before Sunday school, the church’s guests are given an often-humorous lecture about protocol, what to expect, and what not to expect. No clapping. You don’t clap for your Sunday school teacher, after all, do you? Today, Jill Stuckey gave the speech. She charmed everyone, but she was also clear about appropriate behavior. This is a Baptist church, after all. You can’t be too careful.

After church, members and guests are likely to adjourn to The Cafeteria, a local eatery owned by Jody Monts. I ate supper there Saturday night, pork chops and turnips, and she asked me if I was in town to go to Sunday school. I told her I was preaching. I ate lunch there again today, baked chicken, dressing, collards, and sweet potato pie. There were other choices, but snails were not on the menu if you’re hoping for French food. This is Southern cooking. I’ll weigh four hundred pounds by this time next week.

I’ve not been in Plains for twenty-four hours yet. But I’m enthusiastic about being here. Nearby is Koinonia Farms and I’m going there tomorrow with a church member. I’ll report on the remainder of the week, I’m sure, but I wanted to get this message across:

Plan a trip to Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. You’ll thank yourself later!

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Holiday, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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