Sorry, President Carter… This Argument Falls Flat -- By: R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
JBMW 14:2 (Fall 2009) p. 11
Sorry, President Carter… This Argument Falls Flat
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
For critics of the Southern Baptist Convention, former President Jimmy Carter is the gift that just keeps on giving. Last July, yet another round of news reports trumpeted the news that the former president has resigned his membership in the Southern Baptist Convention. Almost a decade after he first made this announcement, his repetitive return to this theme set up a new avalanche of news reports. Reports, we might add, that are not news. Adding insult to injury, the reports are about a “resignation” that isn’t even a resignation. Try explaining that to the international media.
Back in October of 2000, President Carter sent a letter to some 75,000 Baptists, indicating that he intended to separate himself from the Southern Baptist Convention—a denomination with which he had historically been associated through church membership, public identification, and personal involvement. He spoke of this as “a painful decision” that was made necessary by the convention’s stated convictions on a number of issues. For some years, Mr. Carter had been publicly identified with the more liberal wing of Southern Baptist life. He was well known for holding liberal positions on an entire range of issues that set him at odds with the denomination. The catalyst for his public announcement was the revision of the denomination’s confession of faith earlier that year.
Any honest observer will be compelled to clarify that Mr. Carter’s action was an exercise in public relations. Individuals are not members of the Southern Baptist Convention, and there is no mechanism for individuals either to join or to resign from the denomination. Local churches indicate their desire to identify with the Southern Baptist Convention through contributing to its causes and declaring themselves to be “in friendly cooperation with” other churches in the fellowship of the convention. As more careful media sources indicated back in October of 2000, President and Mrs. Carter actually remained members of a congregation that is, as The New York Times then explained, “still affiliated with the convention.”
Just a few years later, the former president reiterated his desire to separate from the Southern Baptist Convention, producing a series of news reports that rarely referenced the fact that Mr. Carter had made such a public announcement years earlier. Over the last two weeks, the pattern has erupted all over again.
The latest eruption of reports about President Carter’s severing of ties with the Southern Baptist Convention came in the aft...
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