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Brother Carter and Brother Clinton's Baptist Revival By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Exasperated by the persistent conservatism of their own Southern Baptist Convention, former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are trying to organize an alternative organization for liberal Baptists.

"This is a historic event for the Baptists in this country and perhaps for Christianity," Carter enthusiastically announced to reporters earlier this month. "Our goal is to have a major demonstration of harmony and a common commitment to honor the goals of Jesus Christ. We want to be all-inclusive, and we call on all Baptists to share those goals and join us."

Instead of traditional Southern Baptist-style biblical teaching, along with opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, this new kind of Baptist entity will fight poverty, global warming and war. The kick-off will be a huge jamboree in Atlanta in early 2008, at which 20,000 non-conservative Baptists are expected..

The new group will be less "negative and judgmental" than the 16 million member Southern Baptist Convention, Carter and Clinton have judgmentally promised.

Basically, the former presidents, who staged their press conference at the Carter Center in Atlanta, along with dozens of "moderate" Baptist leaders, want Baptists to sound more like politically correct Episcopalians.

"This is very important in the history of modern Christianity and how religion should relate to the larger society," Clinton proclaimed. "This is an attempt to bring people together and say, 'What would our Christian witness require of us in the 21st century?' "

One senior Southern Baptist leader questioned Carter’s and Clinton’s timing.

"Purportedly they're going to hold a convention of several thousand people in Atlanta in early 2008, hosted by two former Democratic presidents, one of whom has a wife seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Richard Land of the convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission told The Washington Post. "Some would see that as an overtly political activity."

Citing issues on which his church and the former president disagree, Land contrasted Carter’s recent book likening of Israel to Apartheid South Africa with the Southern Baptist Convention’s own strong support for Israel.

According to Land, most Southern Baptists voted against both Clinton and Carter, and four out of five voters who identified themselves as Southern Baptists voted in 2000 for George W. Bush over Al Gore, who also belongs to the convention. "I suspect that Mr. Carter and Mr. Clinton are upset about that," Land told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Carter was elected to the presidency in 1976 thanks to majority support from evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, who saw the self-professed "born-again" former Georgia governor as one of their won. But the Carter administration’s liberalism fueled a sense of betrayal among many evangelicals. In effect, that betrayal helped to launch the religious right, which successfully supported Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Although more electorally successful, Clinton commented during his presidency that religious conservatives were the social demographic most politically hostile to him. During his White House years, which were characterized by Southern Baptist criticisms of his administration’s liberal social policies, Clinton attended a liberal United Methodist congregation with his Methodist wife.

In January or February 2008, Carter and Clinton hope to convene a "Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant," that will draw thousands of sympathetic co-religionists to Atlanta to discuss their proposed alternative to the "fundamentalist" dominated Southern Baptist Convention. In his book of last year, "Our Endangered Values," Carter likens "fundamentalist" domination of the Southern Baptist Convention to the Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power in Iran.

Carter’s critics believe that Carter’s policies facilitated the Ayatollah’s ascendancy. Perhaps far more decisively than any of his actions against the Ayatollah’s regime, Carter is striking out against the Southern Baptist leadership.

Clinton modestly insisted he was only a "cheerleader" for the anti-Southern Baptist initiative, with Carter serving as the main organizer. In 2000, Carter disaffiliated from the Southern Baptist Convention, mailing his announcement to 75,000 co-religionists.

The new Carter-Clinton Baptist group would not itself be a new denomination but a coalition of four historically black Baptist communions, plus several more liberal mostly white Baptist denominations, such as the 1.4 million member American Baptist Churches (USA). These denominations belong to the politically left-wing National Council of Churches.

"We will be addressing issues in nonpartisan ways but in prophetic ways," said the Rev. William J. Shaw, president of the predominantly black National Baptist Convention, USA. In these religious circles, "prophetic" is often a codeword to describe church activism for left-wing causes, dressed up by religious language.

The "New Baptist Covenant" will include people of all races, classes, sexual orientations and political persuasions, Carter promised, and is "not trying to replace or work against anyone."

"There is a deep crisis and division among Christian believers who are separated from one another because of these ancillary issues," said Carter. "The main thrust of our efforts is to heal those wounds."

No doubt many sincere Baptists will troop to Atlanta for the Carter-Clinton project. But how noteworthy that the "New Baptist Covenant" seems to define itself not be creeds or theology, as conservative Southern Baptists do, but by generically left of center political and social goals: advocating greater environmental regulation, opposing U.S. military activities, advocating larger welfare state programs.

Traditional Christians understand their faith through common understandings of God, salvation, and personal ethical behavior. Religionists of the left often see these historic tenets as inconsequential. For many of them, religion is just an instrument for political activism. The "New Baptist Covenant" claims to be only a smiling alternative to the supposedly frowning Southern Baptist conservatism. But it sounds suspiciously like a southern-friend version of left-wing Social Gospel lobbying, of the sort that has emasculated the declining mainline Protestant denominations.

Do many Baptists really want to follow the example of the discombobulated Episcopal Church or the shriveling United Church of Christ?

Exasperated by the persistent conservatism of their own Southern Baptist Convention, former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are trying to organize an alternative organization for liberal Baptists.

"This is a historic event for the Baptists in this country and perhaps for Christianity," Carter enthusiastically announced to reporters earlier this month. "Our goal is to have a major demonstration of harmony and a common commitment to honor the goals of Jesus Christ. We want to be all-inclusive, and we call on all Baptists to share those goals and join us."

Instead of traditional Southern Baptist-style biblical teaching, along with opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, this new kind of Baptist entity will fight poverty, global warming and war. The kick-off will be a huge jamboree in Atlanta in early 2008, at which 20,000 non-conservative Baptists are expected..

The new group will be less "negative and judgmental" than the 16 million member Southern Baptist Convention, Carter & Clinton have promised.

Basically, the former presidents, who staged their press conference at the Carter Center in Atlanta, along with dozens of "moderate" Baptist leaders, want Baptists to sound more like politically correct Episcopalians.

"This is very important in the history of modern Christianity and how religion should relate to the larger society," Clinton proclaimed. "This is an attempt to bring people together and say, 'What would our Christian witness require of us in the 21st century?' "

One senior Southern Baptist leader questioned Carter’s and Clinton’s timing.

"Purportedly they're going to hold a convention of several thousand people in Atlanta in early 2008, hosted by two former Democratic presidents, one of whom has a wife seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Richard Land of the convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission told The Washington Post. "Some would see that as an overtly political activity."

Citing issues on which his church and the former president disagree, Land contrasted Carter’s recent book likening of Israel to Apartheid South Africa with the Southern Baptist Convention’s own strong support for Israel.

According to Land, most Southern Baptists voted against both Clinton and Carter, and four out of five voters who identified themselves as Southern Baptists voted in 2000 for George W. Bush over Al Gore, who also belongs to the convention. "I suspect that Mr. Carter and Mr. Clinton are upset about that," Land told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Carter was elected to the presidency in 1976 thanks to majority support from evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, who saw the self-professed "born-again" former Georgia governor as one of their won. But the Carter administration’s liberalism fueled a sense of betrayal among many evangelicals. In effect, that betrayal helped to launch the religious right, which successfully supported Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Although more electorally successful, Clinton commented during his presidency that religious conservatives were the social demographic most politically hostile to him. During his White House years, which were characterized by Southern Baptist criticisms of his administration’s liberal social policies, Clinton attended a liberal United Methodist congregation with his Methodist wife.

In January or February 2008, Carter and Clinton hope to convene a "Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant," that will draw thousands of sympathetic co-religionists to Atlanta to discuss their proposed alternative to the "fundamentalist" dominated Southern Baptist Convention. In his book of last year, "Our Endangered Values," Carter likens "fundamentalist" domination of the Southern Baptist Convention to the Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power in Iran.

Carter’s critics believe that Carter’s policies facilitated the Ayatollah’s ascendancy. Perhaps far more decisively than any of his actions against the Ayatollah’s regime, Carter is striking out against the Southern Baptist leadership.

Clinton modestly insisted he was only a "cheerleader" for the anti-Southern Baptist initiative, with Carter serving as the main organizer. In 2000, Carter disaffiliated from the Southern Baptist Convention, mailing his announcement to 75,000 co-religionists.

The new Carter-Clinton Baptist group would not itself be a new denomination but a coalition of four historically black Baptist communions, plus several more liberal mostly white Baptist denominations, such as the 1.4 million member American Baptist Churches (USA). These denominations belong to the politically left-wing National Council of Churches.

"We will be addressing issues in nonpartisan ways but in prophetic ways," said the Rev. William J. Shaw, president of the predominantly black National Baptist Convention, USA. In these religious circles, "prophetic" is often a codeword to describe church activism for left-wing causes, dressed up by religious language.

The "New Baptist Covenant" will include people of all races, classes, sexual orientations and political persuasions, Carter promised, and is "not trying to replace or work against anyone."

"There is a deep crisis and division among Christian believers who are separated from one another because of these ancillary issues," said Carter. "The main thrust of our efforts is to heal those wounds."

No doubt many sincere Baptists will troop to Atlanta for the Carter-Clinton project. But how noteworthy that the "New Baptist Covenant" seems to define itself not be creeds or theology, as conservative Southern Baptists do, but by generically left of center political and social goals: advocating greater environmental regulation, opposing U.S. military activities, advocating larger welfare state programs.

Traditional Christians understand their faith through common understandings of God, salvation, and personal ethical behavior. Religionists of the left often see these historic tenets as inconsequential. For many of them, religion is just an instrument for political activism. The "New Baptist Covenant" claims to be only a smiling alternative to the supposedly frowning Southern Baptist conservatism. But it sounds suspiciously like a southern-friend version of left-wing Social Gospel lobbying, of the sort that has emasculated the declining mainline Protestant denominations.

Do many Baptists really want to follow the example of the discombobulated Episcopal Church or the shriveling United Church of Christ?

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Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.


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