December 12, 2007

Carter on the Celebration

Former President Jimmy Carter recently wrote a column on the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant. It appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and is entitled "Global divisions faced as Baptists plan to convene." Here are a few highlights:
For the first time in more than 160 years, we will have a major convocation of Baptists in America with neither our unity nor freedom threatened by differences of race, politics, geography or legalistic interpretations of the Scriptures.

On Jan. 30, as many as 20,000 Baptists are expected to gather in Atlanta for a three-day meeting. These Baptists will look for common ground under the theme "Unity in Christ" as they celebrate a New Baptist Covenant. One of the basic premises will be that the doors will be open to all Baptists who choose to share this long-awaited experience.

Our common ground will be the words of our Savior when he returned to his home town in Nazareth after his miraculous ministry had been demonstrated around the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord."

These words are both inspirational and a call to action as we strive to emulate, in our own individual ways, the perfect life of Jesus Christ. There is no way to avoid his emphasis on "poor," "brokenhearted," "captives," "blind" and "bruised." We pray that the "spirit of the Lord" will also be upon us.

We meet at a time when the global Christian church is numerically strong and changing rapidly, but is sadly afflicted with unnecessary divisions that sap away the strength of our collective ministry.

... In the inevitable competition with other beliefs, extant since the founding of the first Christian churches, our advantages are derived from the purity and attractiveness of Jesus' commitments: to peace, justice, humility, service, forgiveness and alleviation of the suffering of others. Our strength and effectiveness are predicated on a willingness to work harmoniously with other Christians to achieve these common goals. This will not be easy. The temptations of self-congratulation and self-exaltation are powerful, as are our inclinations to be enjoyably inspired and then lapse into relative dormancy. It is only right that we approach Atlanta with thanksgiving, high hopes and expectations but also with humility and prayers that our deliberations will be guided by the permeating spirit of Jesus Christ.
Amen! Despite what some have inaccurately claimed about Carter or the Celebration, it should be obvious from this column that both are firmly focused on Jesus and the gospel message. I hope all Baptists will make plans to attend or at least join in praying for this endeavor.

12 comments:

  1. Brian,

    I wonder what President Carter includes in his reference to freedom from "legalistic interpretations of the Scriptures"?
    I also wonder why you, as a journalist specializing in effective use of words, don't wonder the same.

    Believe me, certain "illegal" interpretations of the Scriptures--such as pluralism--can and should threaten Baptist unity.

    This is the sad prospect that I believe you have chosen to ignore in regards to Carter, who is the NBC's keynote and initiator. You've gone against your own stated standards, as I've pointed out to you previously. You choose to assume Carter's statements that sound plural are not--even though he hasn't refuted, or even blinked about, them.

    Neither you, nor any other NBC supporter, will simply ask the man to explain his statements, and shut people like me up.

    Sticking one's head in the sand is usually done because one doesn't want to risk seeing things as they really are.

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  2. Anonymous11:27 AM

    Chuck:

    Get off your anti-NBC high horse. You may not agree with Carter's stance on anything (in fact, your obsession with pluralism makes me think your theological tank is pretty shallow if you have nothing else to talk about), but if you really are that much against a large rally that focuses on spreading AND living out the gospel, then you have shown your true colors.

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  3. Chuck2:25 PM

    I don't think I ever met anyone who's first and last names were Anonymous.

    You must be doubly ashamed of what you have to say.

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  4. Anonymous11:32 PM

    The name is Ted.

    For some reason I still don't feel ashamed AND you should still get off that high-horse.

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  5. Chuck3:42 PM

    Ted,

    Actually, I'm obsessed with a love for Jesus, for family, and for my church and denomination.

    I'll speak out against anything and anyone who would take away from the uniqueness and absolute worth of Jesus Christ. He alone is able to save, and so pluaralism under the name of Baptist is a big deal.

    It may not be to you. You may not care. NBC proponents don't seem to.

    Ted, what do you think is more basic or important to Christian
    and Baptist theology than the gospel, including its exclusivity?

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  6. Wow, we've got quite a lively discussion going here! Thanks for the comments.

    1st Chuck comment: The phrase "legalistic interpretations" did jump out at me and I did think the piece would be better without it. But I feel quite confident that based on his past comments he was referring to issues of women in ministry, and not pluralism. Remember, you have no credible sources to make that argument. You misread the Mormon question and use a very poor third-hand source on the Jewish question. The vast majority of the evidence and the most clear and credible evidence supports the contention that Carter is not pluralistic. Read this piece I posted about here--it is very clear it is all about Jesus!

    As for Carter not responding, I wish he would but understand why he has not. If you were as public as a figure who gets attacked as often as he does, you would not have the time or energy to respond to all of the attacks. And your attacks are pretty minor in voice compared to most of the attacks he gets. Maybe if you had a legitimate and reputable item then he would respond.

    Anonymous: You make a good point. The only reason why one would accept the poor "evidence" that Chuck has is because it matches their ideology. I wish he would tell us what he really has against Carter and the Celebration.

    2nd Chuck comment: I do prefer people to not post anonymously.

    Ted: Thanks for stopping by. I prefer people to tell us who they are but I don't think anonymous posts are because people are ashamed and you have no reason to be.

    3rd Chuck comment: You are right that "pluaralism [sic] under the name of Baptist is a big deal." If there was any with the Celebration I would back you. But you are making a huge case out of very poor "evidence." I do not think anyone would trust the pieces you point to unless it matched what they already wanted to believe. So, what is it that you already had against Carter and the Celebration?

    Your claim that Ted and Celebration proponents (which I assume includes me) do not seem to care about the "the uniqueness and absolute worth of Jesus Christ" is way out of line. You are just plain wrong. Read Carter's piece in this post and everything I have written about the Celebration and other topics. The focus is on Jesus and sharing his love with a broken world that desperately needs the hope that only comes from him. The Celebration is firmly founded on Jesus and his mission as laid out in Luke 4. It is time for you to stop misrepresenting the Celebration and quit spreading false rumors and gossip.

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  7. Chuck,

    I was way too abrasive in my posts and want to apologize for that regardless of anything that has been said. But your comments are totally out of line as Brian points out, not only towards me personally, but to all who support the mission of the NBC.

    Chuck - First of all, neither pluralism or universalism is going to be addressed at NBC. Period. Even if you think Carter is in love with this principal, it's just not going to be presented, taught, or pushed. Give me some evidence as to why you think it will be, as Brian suggested.

    Secondly, I understand pluralism as finding at least a degree of truth in other religions. Does believing that there is at least some truth in other religions make one "inclusivist" or does it diminish the worth of Christ in his or her eyes? Certain truths that are found in the Bible were present in other religions as well, even before our scriptures were written. I say all of this to show you that I think there is a difference between pluralism and universalism, which you seem to be suggesting Carter and the NBC proponents adhere to.

    BUT - once again, the NBC has nothing to do with pluralism, universalism, or electing Hillary, as some have suggested. Perhaps you should rethink your words before suggesting that NBC attendees and supporters desire to take away from the "uniqueness and absolute worth of Jesus Christ." If the head honchos of the SBC called a gathering based on Luke 4 and Baptist unity, I wouldn't be caught dead criticizing their efforts even if I disagree with them on so many other things.

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  8. Brian,

    The Celebration is identified with President Carter. This year, subsequent to his calling for the coming Atlanta 2008 meeting, Carter has been reported by Newsweek and Rabbi Lerner to have made statements at best vague about a Mormon being a Christian, and alarming regarding Judaism being a legitimate path to God.

    Again, I'm going to let you--quoting you verbatim from this blog in September--speak for me:

    "At least my comments are based on printed statements and not pure conjecture. Additionally, if Oldham was misquoted or misled why has he not spoken out about it yet? If he is going to be the Convention's spokesperson on this issue then he needs to be clear enough . . ."

    Brian, I say again, borrowing your rationale, ". . . if President Carter was misquoted or misled (by Newsweek or Rabbi Lerner) why has he not spoken out about it yet? If he is going to be the New Baptist Covenant's convener and keynote spokesperson on this issue of a 'new prophetic voice' and 'authentic Baptist witness,' then he needs to be clearly Baptist in his soteriology."

    Some think Carter was a poor president. I may or may not agree. Some think he's a poor former president. I may or may not agree. You may or may not agree. My problem with Carter is that, as you pointed out, he is well known, and reports of his pluralist-sounding comments are read by many. His calling for, convening, and keynoting so public and publicized a Baptist gathering gives an unclear--at best-- or false--at worst--Baptist witness. I'm a Baptist in North America, so I have a real problem with that.

    To you, Ted and any other NBC proponent who's aware of the reports, I unapologetically restate: If you're not alarmed at Carter's silence on Newsweek's and Lerner's reports of his 2007 comments, you apparently don't think pluralism (legitimizing other paths to God) is a big deal. The fact that you nor anyone has asked Carter to explain or refute the reports and reporters lends evidence to this assertion.

    By your own standards, Brian.

    Please do not accuse me again of spreading false rumors or gossip. Everything I've referred to is in print.

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  9. Ted: You make a good point. Chuck and no one else has any evidence that pluralism is being promoted as part of the Celebration or will be among its agenda items. That is, of course, because it is not and will not be part of the Celebration.


    Chuck: You clearly are unwilling to objectively consider the facts here. The Rabbi you quote cannot substantiate the comment and it was a third-hand report. If a lawyer tried to bring up such a claim they would be laughed out of court. And yet, you want to use it to convict Carter. Additionally, it goes against all of his other statements about Jesus and salvation, and you yourself once concluded that it was not reliable and promised you would not use it any longer. As for the Mormon question, it was not as clear of an answer as you or I would have liked but it is not an incorrect answer. With an ambiguous statement you should compare it to the individual's other comments on the subject. With those you find Carter clearly affirming the necessity of Jesus for salvation and thus your interpretation of his remarks is inaccurate.

    Since you continue to hold to an interpretation that flies in the face of the vast majority of the evidence and the most credible evidence then clearly your ideology is driving your beliefs. If you were not already set against Carter and the Celebration then there is no way you would honestly believe the claims you are making against him. It just does not fit with the evidence.

    I've already dealt with the issue of him responding. But if you actually read his writings and other comments you will find that he has been very clearly Baptist in his soteriology. Somehow I doubt that a response from Carter would stop you from attacking him or the Celebration since you rely so heavily on such unreliable evidence and since you already flip-flopped on your claim that you would not use the Rabbi's remarks any longer (how about following your standards?). I wish Carter would issue a statement, but until he does my standard has always been to closely examine the words in light of the context. I have done that and found your claims to fail.

    There are lots of things in print, but a lot of them are just plain wrong. The mainstream media--including your revered Newsweek--has made big mistakes before.

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  10. Chuck3:23 PM

    Brian,

    I'm not out to convict Carter. The reports do that.

    You're not concerned about pluralism in Baptist circles to the point of maintaining principles over personalities. I am.

    You tout objectivity, along with the importance of what one says and the perceptions made. But you refuse to apply it when it rattles your ideology.

    Your own standard which I quoted belies you, my friend. You won't even agree Carter needs to speak for himself.

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  11. Chuck7:17 PM

    Ted,

    Thank you for your apology. It's accepted.

    I'm sure pluralism is not on the agenda, but the non refuted reports of statements by President Carter, coupled with his fame and NBC lead role, taint an "authentic Baptist witness," a "new prophetic voice," and "traditional Baptist values."

    If Carter were to refute the reports or remove himself from the NBC forefront, I'd have no complaint. But I'm a Baptist in North America, and Carter is not a suitable leader of a Baptist movement which claims the above purposes if he can't refute the Rabbi and explain what he meant in the Newsweek interview.

    As for inclusivism, pluralism, and exclusivism, you might read Charles Kimball's--a self-described pluralist--definitions of the three (see the address below). Briefly, the inclusivist sees value in other faiths while the pluralist legitimizes other faiths as paths to God (salvation).

    http://www.ethicsdaily.com/article_detail.cfm?AID=4044

    I'm not a guilt-by-association person, but am a concern-with-association person. I say that in regard to Kimball being a member of Wake Forest's School of Religion and associated with its Divinity School, which is highly represented in the list of January 2007 attendees at The Carter Center announcement meeting. I mean Bill Leonard, the Dean, and James Dunn.

    So, the pluralism apple doesn't fall terribly far from the NBC tree.

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  12. Chuck: I will say it one more time. Only someone biased against Carter and the Celebration would take the position you do with such lousy evidence. If you would be objective and fair you would recognize the huge flaws with your claims (as you once noticed before you flip-flopped and returned to attacking the Celebration). Clearly you have already made up your mind and so you will not pay any attention to the facts. That is unfortunate.

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