Posts Tagged With: Southern Baptist

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

A Ministerial Divide in New Hampshire… and in South Carolina… and Elsewhere…

Lots of things make me scratch my head.

My angst today has to do with two separate groups of pastors that exist in and around Hanover, New Hampshire.

One alliance consists of the old mainline churches: the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, the Congregationalists, the Roman Catholics, and the Cooperative Baptists. I was invited to participate with these ecumenical ministers in the Good Friday community service held at the Hanover Catholic church. They seem to focus on areas of agreement rather than discord.

The second configuration represents the self-described evangelical wing of Christianity. A nearby Charismatic church pays for this fellowship to meet once a month for lunch, which encourages participation. These churches sometimes wear their autonomy in their name, as in “Independent Bible Church.” Like the downtown folks, this is also a diverse gathering, and they also seem to respect one another.

It appears that I sorta fit sometimes in both groups. I’m not sure whether this is because…

  • I like Jesus, and can get along with most other people who like Jesus, or…
  • I am a wimp, which might also be known as a peacemaker, or…
  • My theology is inclusive, and forgiving, and attempts to major on grace, or…
  • Something else.

Aspects of both types of groups, I’ll admit, appeal to me and others irritate me. Example: When I retired, I wanted to worship outside my tradition, at least for a while. I have often visited with the Quakers (Society of Friends) when away from home, so I googled the Friends meeting house in Columbia. The banner across their website read: UNACCEPTABLE. Dang. I’d been fighting the problem of exclusion in the Southern Baptist world for a few decades. Now I turn to the liberal wing of Christianity and discover their first word is “unacceptable.” Double Dang. I don’t even remember the issue.

The Greek Orthodox officially think I’m not a Christian. Some Lutheran and Episcopal ministers judge me because of my accent or my “low-church” worship. So-called progressives, moderates, liturgical congregations, and liberals do not get a pass on being judgmental.

The evangelical, conservative, fundamentalist, Pentecostal wings of the church have their own demons. I want to think of myself as evangelical, if only that meant inviting people to warm up to Jesus. But nowadays, it means I’m required to be hostile to homosexuality, against women in leadership, and certain that everyone who doesn’t believe like me is going to hell. Depending on which brand of evangelical you encounter, you may also be required to adopt a Calvinist/Reformed theology or swear allegiance to the Republican Party. Some of the discussion at the luncheon with these pastors revolved around whether a church’s elders would let the pastor celebrate Easter during worship. Some people who had attended this group apparently quit participating when a woman pastor showed up one month.

There’s something wrong at the core of this divide.

One Lord. One Faith. One Baptism.

…that they may be one…

Categories: Faith/Spirituality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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