Jimmy Carter seeks reconciliation among US Baptists

By staff writers
1 Feb 2008

Former US President Jimmy Carter, who was edged out of the 15 million strong Southern Baptist denomination because of its exclusivism, is playing a key role in a three day convention seeking reconciliation among the wider Baptist community in the USA.

Carter has called the meeting, billed as the broadest of its kind among Baptists across North America since the split over slavery in 1845, "the most momentous event" of his religious life.

He believes it reflects a desire for unity across racial, theological and political lines and an end to their internal divisions.

"For the first time in more than 160 years, we are convening a major gathering of Baptists throughout an entire continent, without any threat to our unity caused by differences of our race or politics or geography or the legalistic interpretation of Scripture," declared Carter.

Up to 20,000 Baptists are registered for the gathering, called the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, in Atlanta, Georgia. There are representatives of some 30 organisations representing 20 million believers in the Baptist tradition.

"We do a bold and glorious thing: we attempt to express the oneness which was our Lord's desire for his people," declared William Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, one of the four prominent African-American Baptists conventions participating in the meeting.

Mr Carter, a former Democratic president, has spent many years working for peace and justice concerns across the globe, linking with both civic and church groups.

His call for security and national boundaries for both Palestinians and Israelis has annoyed the religious right. But Carter argues that the biblical priority of concern for the poor ought to be a unifying factor among Christians, overriding external ideological interests.

Baptists in the USA have had major differences over the interpretation and role of the Bible, women in ministry, gender relations, abortion, civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, and the separation of church and state, among others.

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