Friday, January 06, 2006

Jimmy Carter

Regardless of your political affiliation, if you are a Christian (or even if not) it is difficult to see Jimmy Carter as anything but a great example of how we might each lead our lives. I’ve read two of his books (“An Hour Before Daylight” and “Our Endangered Values”) and find President Carter to be a writer that knows how to express his heart while also giving a well reasoned overview of the situation. Here I want to share some of his thoughts from “Our Endangered Values” with the hopes that more of you will go out and buy it, read it and share his thinking with others.

From the dust jacket synopsis – “In ‘Our Endangered Values,’ Carter offers a personal consideration of moral values as they relate to the important issues of the day. He puts forward a passionate defense of separation of church and state, and a strong warning of where the country is heading as the lines between politics and rigid religious fundamentalism are blurred.”

The single most compelling piece of information I got from the book was this – after 70 years in the same church, the Southern Baptist Convention, after growing up within that church, teaching Sunday School and leading Bible studies still, Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter severed their personal relationships with the Southern Baptist Convention. As I read it, the Carters still go to their local church, Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, but I am not clear as to whether that church has severed ties to the SBC, or if the Carters have simply given up their positions within that convention while continuing to practice their traditional Baptist faith at their chosen church.

Although President Carter had been aware of the changes brewing in his church and had worked to alleviate some of the concerns that were causing division, in the summer of 2000 at the Southern Baptist Convention a new “Baptist Faith and Message” statement was adopted. In that statement a phrase was removed, the premise that “the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is Jesus Christ, whose will is revealed in the Holy Scriptures.” What this meant was that rather than read the Word and find it’s truth in one’s heart, these faithful people were now to listen to their Southern Baptist leaders for the proper interpretation of scripture.

Among some of the changes that this thinking has brought to the SBC are: the melding of religion and politics is desired, pastors should be male, traditional Baptists are excluded from convention affairs, local churches yield authority to the convention, and women are to be subservient to men. Further, the SBC has chosen to withdraw from the Baptist World Alliance, an organization that the SBC helped to organize and in which it played a key role for more than a century. Their reasoning? The BWA had become too liberal.

President Carter then writes, “During the last quarter century (this takes us back to President Reagan and the formation of the Moral Majority) there has been a parallel right-wing movement within American politics, often directly tied to the attributes of like-minded Christian groups. The revolutionary new political principles involve special favors for the powerful at the expense of others, abandonment of social justice, denigration of those who differ, failure to protect the environment, attempts to exclude those who refuse to conform, a tendency toward unilateral diplomatic action and away from international agreements, an excessive inclination toward conflict, and reliance on fear as a means of persuasion.”

While it is simple to read that laundry list of what I see as un-Christian standards and point to the current administration as standing firmly by each and every one of them in their actions if not their rhetoric, it is important to realize that it is not only President Bush and his cadre of neo-cons, but many within the Republican party that are beholden to the Christian Right. I’m inclined to say that anyone running for office under the Republican banner that doesn’t decry the Christian Right is within their reach, if not their current grasp. Another place to check on candidates, along with a host of other information, is

America is a country of inclusion. All faiths, all people, all the time. I am all for any group, even the Southern Baptist convention, worshipping as they wish and building a following in Christ as they wish, but when they seek to build excessive influence in our government along their theological lines, I say "No!" If we lose the ability to worship as we wish, if we install a government bent on a fundamentalist theology, we will have lost much of what makes America great. It is the differences between us that bring out the best in us, accepting others as they are, sharing who we are and working together to make a better future for all Americans and, as importantly if not more so, for this little planet we call Earth.

There is a great deal more of value in Jimmy Carter’s latest book, “Our Endangered Values.” His statement of personal faith in Christ and acceptance of other faiths, Christian and otherwise, that differ from his, a call to be watchful for the continued separation of church and state, more on religious fundamentalism here and abroad that seeks to hasten the end of days, the sins of divorce and homosexuality, woman’s’ issues, foreign policy and more. It’s a great read, meaning it’s quite conversational in tone, and will give you more tools to speak to your conservative Christian friends about where our country is going wrong and what we need to do to get it back on track.


Blogger Patti said...

The book is great- a must read for all Christians.

4/03/2006 5:05 PM  

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