Jimmy Carter can’t understand why the Southern Baptist Convention turned down an invitation to participate in his Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant gala in Atlanta this week. At a Sunday school class I attended in Plains, Georgia last month, Carter described the gathering as merely an effort to “bind” Baptists together “in the spirit of serving Christ without recrimination and without animosity and without criticizing each other.”
Who could be opposed to that? More to the point, who doesn’t want to meet John Grisham?
Now, granted, there is the small matter of the former president disavowing his membership in the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000 with a publicly released letter declaring the group violated “the basic tenets of my Christian faith” and the presumptuousness of grandly declaring, with typical Carter modesty, a “new covenant” for an entire denomination. And, sure, if you look at the index listing for “Southern Baptist Convention” in the back of Carter’s left-wing evangelical tract Our Endangered Values, you’ll find entries such as bridging of church-state separation, 60-61, fundamentalist leadership of, 32-33, 39-42 and fundamentalist view of Carter in, 32-33.
Perhaps reacting to such trivialities, Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page said last year he’d skip this month’s Carter meeting to avoid being part of “any smokescreen left-wing liberal agenda.”
This is ludicrous. How much cash could the New Covenant crew have really spent on a liberalism-hiding fog machine at an event that opens with this everybody hold hands address by Carter, includes an Al Gore “Stewardship of the Earth” luncheon, features speeches by Tony Campolo and Marian Wright Edelman, and closes with Bill Clinton? GOP Senators Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley may have been invited to give the gathering bipartisan credibility, but neither burn bright enough to be a blip on this progressive supernova.
It is simply insane to believe Jimmy Carter, Al Gore and Bill Clinton would ever exploit a religious event for political purposes — just ask Jimmy Carter.
NONE OF THIS IS necessarily to defend the Southern Baptist Convention. As an un-baptized heathen married to a Jew, I cannot pretend to understand the inner workings of this or any other Christian denomination. Nevertheless, I can say the Convention should not take any rejection from Jimmy Carter too personally. The former president does not think highly of any belief system outside of the strictures of his own biases, as this exploration of denominational differences from his book Living Faith clearly demonstrates:
On the one hand, there are those who believe that Christianity gives its adherents material benefits. Such churches promise their members comfort, security, financial wealth, and prestige, and they often display an evangelistic zeal that is quite impressive.
It seems Carter may have momentarily confused Christianity with Scientology. Or it could be certain versions of God are easier for him to deal with dressed up in straw? Otherwise why not reprint the damning bible pages altered to fit the needs of religious Robber Barons? Where are the transcripts of sermons misquoting Matthew with “evangelistic zeal,” Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a poor man to enter the kingdom of God?
On the other hand, there are those who consider ministering to the poor, the despised, and the homeless as important elements of Christianity. The first group often looks upon the second as less than truly Christian, sometimes using the phrase “secular humanist” to describe them.
Guess which church Carter patronizes. Is it the new Trinity of Screw the poor!, Denigrate the despised! and Keep the homeless out of homes! that conservatives apparently so adore? Or is it the Church of Universal Magnanimity?
THERE IS A STORY JIMMY Carter tells in several of his books about a newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention paying him a visit in the Oval Office and telling the shocked — shocked! — Commander in Chief, “We are praying, Mr. President, that you will abandon secular humanism as your religion.”
“He may have said this because I was against a constitutional amendment to authorize mandatory prayer in public school and had been working on some things opposed by the ‘religious right,’ such as the Panama Canal treaties, a Department of Education, and the SALT II treaty with the Soviets,” Carter theorizes in Living Faith, as if in the 1970s the “religious right” were single-issue voters fixated in the Panama Canal and maybe — maybe — disrupting arms treaties rather than, oh, I don’t know…abortion.
Nevertheless, it isn’t quite clear why, outside of the obvious political advantages gained by marrying delusions of grandeur to a sanctimonious religion-based piety, Carter would so object to the “secular humanist” label. This is a man, after all, who writes in Our Endangered Values of coming to the “surprising and somewhat reluctant conclusion” that when it comes to alleviating poverty and injustice “government officeholders and not church members [are] more likely to assume responsibility and be able to fulfill the benevolent missions.”
Carter places the miracles of government bureaucracy ahead of those of his own church, yet still wonders why the largest single contingent of Baptists in the country is skeptical of his New Covenant. “I treat theological arguments gingerly but am bolder when it comes to connecting my religious beliefs with life and current events in the world, even when the issues are controversial,” Carter writes in Living Faith. In other words, the details of scripture are uninteresting until they offer a rationale for Carter’s left-wing predilections or somehow justify the four years of tribulation known as his presidency.
APPROPRIATELY ENOUGH, to Carter’s mind, the biggest trade-off of the Crucifixion may have been gaining eternal salvation while losing a potentially great bureaucratic overlord. During a meditation on the temptation of Christ, Carter muses over the attractiveness of Satan’s offer to allow Christ to rule the world if he rejected God:
What a wonderful and benevolent government Jesus could have set up. How exemplary justice would have been. Maybe there would have been Habitat projects all over Israel for anyone who needed a home. And the proud, the rich, and the powerful could not have dominated their fellow citizensâ€¦As a twentieth-century governor and president I would have had a perfect pattern to follow. I could have pointed to the Bible and told other government leaders, “This is what Jesus did 2000 years ago in government. Why don’t we do the same?”
That Carter assumes, first, he would be a worthy successor to Christ in political office — what, Jesus returns to implement…term limits? — and, second, that the Messiah would spend his post-presidency years doing precisely as Carter did — building Habitat for Humanity homes, apparently — tells you everything you need to know about the Man from Plains’ outlook on this world and the next.
American Spectator Contributing Editor Shawn Macomber is writing a book on the Global Class War.