Editorial By John-Henry Westen
ATLANTA, January 11, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter needed their Southern Baptist credentials during their political years in order to boost their electoral appeal. Now the pair, who have both been publicly criticized in the past by Southern Baptist Convention leaders, are helping to move the denomination against life and family as they did the country.
At the Carter Center in Atlanta Tuesday, Clinton and Carter were on hand to announce a 2008 Baptist convocation which hopes to attract 20,000 Baptists from North America. They say it hopes to recast the Baptist image as less ‘negative and judgemental’. The tentative date for the convocation is Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2008 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.
The initiative is mostly Carter’s with Clinton admitting he was there to be a “cheerleader”.
While Clinton with his staunch abortion support, womanizing and support for homosexuality may have little concern for his being seen as a faithful Baptist, the situation is very different for Carter. While he did support abortion, and homosexuality, Carter’s stands on these issues were more nuanced than those of Clinton. Moreover, Carter has distinguished himself, following his stint as leader of the United States, through his charitable initiatives, prime among them being Habitat for Humanity.
While many would see it as just another attempt to water down Christianity to the level of political correctness, Carter evidently sees his initiative as something special. “This is a historic event for the Baptists in this country and perhaps for Christianity,” Carter said at a press conference announcing the convocation.
His efforts to shape the Baptists into a religion more of his own liberal thinking began in earnest in 2000 when he formally announced his leaving of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In a letter mailed to 75,000 Baptists nationwide Carter wrote, “I have finally decided that, after 65 years, I can no longer be associated with the Southern Baptist Convention” citing the SBC’s “increasingly rigid creed” as his reason.
Carter’s views on Christian religion insist on the allowance of women pastors, on a focus on the poor, peace, the environment, and avoidance of the hurtful, divisive issues of abortion and homosexuality.
Morris H. Chapman, President of the SBC Executive Committee, has noted in the past that Carter was originally embraced by Baptist conservatives in 1976 when he publicly described himself as a born-again Christian. Chapman suggests that Carter lost favour with conservative Christians after actions such as appointing Sarah Weddington – the lead attorney in the landmark 1973 abortion case, Roe v. Wade – to a White House position when he was assistant to the president.
Regarding homosexuality, Carter would allow for homosexual ‘marriage’ but says he would not force churches to perform homosexual weddings. In an interview with the homosexual publication The Advocate in January 2006, Carter said: “If an individual church or synagogue doesn’t want to have marriage vows expressed by gay people, I think that ought to be a religious decision. But under no circumstances do I think a gay couple ought to be deprived of their rights as citizens.”
Pope Benedict XVI addressed the trend to such cafeteria-style Christianity in a speech to Swiss Bishops in November 2006, warning that it could become a “substitute for religion.”
“Modern society is not simply without morality, but it has, so to speak, ‘discovered’ and professes a part of morality”, the Pope said. “These are the great themes of peace, non-violence, justice for all, concern for the poor, and respect for creation.”
The Pope warned that these “great moral themes” have “become an ethical complex that, precisely as a political force, has great power and constitutes for many the substitute for religion, or its successor.”
“It is only if human life is respected from conception to death that the ethics of peace is also possible and credible,” concluded the Pope. “It is only then that non-violence can express itself in every direction; only then that we truly welcome creation, and only then that we can arrive at true justice.”
Carter is, with his new initiative, attempting to set up a substitute religion. A religion which regards “fundamentalists”, as he pejoratively refers to Christians who refuse to water down beliefs on the controversial life and family teachings of Christ, as the enemy.