Jimmy Carter notes progress in building Baptist unity

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ATLANTA (ABP) – Former President Jimmy Carter told veteran journalist Bob Abernethy that he’s seen progress in areas that prompted him to convene a New Baptist Covenant gathering in 2008 and New Baptist Covenant II gatherings scattered across nine locations linked by satellite TV Nov. 17-19.

“We started talking about what became the New Baptist Covenant about four or five years ago,” Carter said from the anchor meeting at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Bob Abernethy and Jimmy Carter discuss issues facing New Baptist Covenant participants.

“We talked about two general and overwhelming subjects,” he said. “One was the lack of unity among Christians — and particularly among Baptists — because we had divided over our differences. So unity among Christians is a very important part of it.”

“The other was to provide cooperation among African-American and white children of God,” Carter said. “Since 1845 when the first Triennial Convention split because the Southern Baptists withdrew over the race issue, we haven’t had a forum in which large numbers of different races could assemble, and that was the second major issue.”

Carter said the historic 2008 meeting drew 15,000 people to Atlanta. About half were African-Americans already in town for a joint mid-winter board meeting of four historic black Baptist conventions. This year, he said seven of the nine meeting sites were in African-American churches, and black preachers and choirs led most of the plenary sessions.

“This means that we have now achieved, I think, both those things,” Carter said. “Unity among Baptists is increasing and we’ve broken down a number of barriers between different races.”

“We’ve made some progress in bringing Baptists together around a common goal,” Carter said. “I think there has also evolved, too, an emphasis on things we did not anticipate.”

For example, he said, two speeches in the morning session Nov. 18 addressed “a growing problem in our country of excessive imprisonment.

 “I think it illustrates that socially there are some things that have to be changed, and we believe the foundation for that change has to be the teachings of Jesus Christ,” he said.

“You never hear of a rich white man being sentenced to execution,” Carter said. “Almost all of those who are executed are poor people, people of color or those who are mentally ill. That issue of structural change has been inadequately addressed by society.”

“I hope that this movement about prisons will bear fruit in the future,” Carter said.

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