Posts Tagged With: Rosalynn 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: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A Week with President Jimmy and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter

Last Saturday, April 29, when I arrived in Plains, Georgia, I assumed I would have a chance to meet the Carters. After all, he was teaching Sunday school in the sanctuary and I was preaching there immediately after—for two Sundays.

I’ve never been to this section of Georgia, so I had a couple of places on my “to do” list for the week—Koinonia Farm, the Habitat for Humanity Global Village, and the Andersonville Prison. All three of these were pilgrimages. Clarence Jordan, author of the Cotton Patch translation of the New Testament, was a huge influence on my young life. Greenlawn Baptist Church and I built the first Habitat for Humanity House in Columbia, SC. I said the first cuss word on a South Carolina Habitat site when a nail punctured my flesh in an inconvenient place. Andersonville prison, as someone posted on Facebook, is the saddest place in America and its story needs to be told.

The President Carter component of the week many of you have seen on Facebook was pure serendipity. My boarding house hostess is, it appears to me, the primary source of orientation for the guests at Maranatha Baptist Church, where the former Leader of the Free World teaches Sunday school. She talks to the gathered congregation before Sunday school about protocol. She makes sure the Carters’ needs are met and is very protective of their privacy. Between Sunday school and worship, in the seclusion of a church office, she (Jill Stuckey) asked if the Carters might be interested in having a meal with the guest preacher (me) sometime during the week. President Carter answered, “Let’s see how he preaches first.”

That’s an honest man. (I didn’t know this story until later.)

Of course, the Carters and I spoke to one another briefly after worship and after pictures had been taken with everyone else. That was a pleasure and an honor, and I was a happy camper.

President and Mrs. Carter returned to Sunday evening church. That was a surprise. They were good listeners. They seemed to like what I had to say.

Later, Jill told me we’d been invited to dinner at the Carter’s on Monday night. I actually prepared some questions in case we had time for serious conversation. I don’t intend to share details of a private evening, but this is worth repeating:

In response to one question, he said, “Be flexible for changing times, but cling to enduring principles.”

Two Mrs. Carters were at dinner. Billy Carter’s wife, Sybil, joined us for dinner. I thoroughly enjoyed her part in table conversation. After dinner, we admired the audacity of a raccoon eating his supper from a bird feeder. He did not seem particularly threatened by the 39th President, but he eventually ambled away.

On Tuesday, I played the tourist, visiting President Carter’s boyhood home and other attractions around Plains. I understand the President was turkey hunting. Sunday school teacher, author, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, hunter, fisherman, peacekeeper, humanitarian, husband, father, artist, furniture-maker, eradicator of diseases (through the Carter Center in Atlanta) and who-knows-what-else? The former President stays busy.

On Wednesday, I visited the POW Museum and the Andersonville Prison about which I blogged earlier this week.

Meanwhile, I discovered the Carters were coming over for Thursday supper as long as I cooked. Landlady Jill claims she’s not a chef, but my Mom taught me how to prepare a meal long ago. Everybody in my family loves breakfast for supper, so I bought sausage, bacon, berries, milk, eggs, coffee and pancake mix and prepared a meal. Folks have asked if I fed the Secret Service. Yes. Sybil Carter and one of the other boarders here also joined us.

Today, Friday, Nelle Ariail, wife of the former pastor at Maranatha Baptist Church, escorted me to Americus and sites of interest there.

There’s a big front porch on the boarding house, and I’ve spent a good hunk of my free time there reading.

Sunday will roll around again, and my plan is simple: Go to Sunday school and hear a good lesson and then preach. After lunch and a nap, I’ll preach again on Sunday night.

“The boundaries have fallen for me in pleasant places.” Psalm 16: 6

 

 

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Holiday, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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