ATLANTA—Former President Jimmy Carter urged Baptists to cross barriers of race, ethnicity and gender to stand strong and courageous.
Carter spoke to the 2016 summit of the New Baptist Covenant—a movement he launched in 2007 to break down barriers of race among Baptists—soon after the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.
Reflecting on the political and social climate in the United States, he expressed his hope the New Baptist Covenant would take to heart the Apostle Paul’s call to the church in Thessalonians to be strong, courageous and firm in the face of persecution.
“This persecution (of the church in Thessalonians) is mirrored to some degree in the life of our country,” Carter said. Concern about long-term wars, the Great Recession and growing economic disparity in the United States all serve to buttress the fear of terrorism and usher in a resurgence of racism across the nation, he noted.
In the face of these issues, change comes slowly, Carter said. Reflecting on the origins of the New Baptist Covenant, he reminded the crowd the movement’s goal was to improve harmony among Baptists to encourage more effective ministry.
“I wanted to address how we could change our reputation from division to unity,” he said.
Carter noted he was amazed at the first meeting of the New Baptist Covenant in 2008, where more than 15,000 Baptists attended, an enormously diverse group “searching for a way to be in superb relationship.”
The movement must continue to explore ways to bring churches and people together across racial and ethnic barriers, he said.
The hope of the New Baptist Covenant is to expand, reaching every church and every community, not just Baptists, Carter said.
In addition to pursuing racial reconciliation, Carter stressed the importance of combatting the persecution of women and girls, even in the United States.
“New Baptist Covenant can be a powerful potential weapon … to set an example not just among Baptists, not just among churches, but in communities and among people of all faiths. I hope that we can set an example not only in this country but set an example for the world,” he said.
Carter expressed thanks to leaders of the movement, encouraging them to continue their good but difficult work, and prayed that those gathered at the summit will be strengthened in partnership with one another and with God.