ATLANTA, Oct. 20 (UPI)--Former President Jimmy Carter, the son of a Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher, has disassociated himself from the nation's largest Protestant denomination and criticized its "increasingly rigid creed."
"I have finally decided that, after 65 years, I can no longer be associated with the Southern Baptist Convention," the 76-year-old former president said in a letter mailed to 75,000 Baptists nationwide on Thursday by a group of moderate Texas Baptists.
Carter said the Southern Baptist Convention, which has almost 16 million members, has adopted policies "that violate the basic premises of my Christian faith," including a denominational statement that prohibits women from being pastors and tells wives to be submissive to their husbands.
He said the "most disturbing" reason he and his wife decided to disassociate themselves from the Southern Baptist Convention was the elimination of language in June that identifies Jesus Christ as "the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted."
Carter began teaching Sunday school at age 18 when he was a Naval Academy cadet. He continued to teach while he was Georgia's governor and the U.S. president.
He said he would remain a deacon and a Sunday school teacher at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Ga., where he has taught adult Sunday school classes since he returned to Georgia in 1981.
"This is a torturous decision to make," Carter said. "I do it with anguish and not with any pleasure."
"My grandfather, my father and I have always been Southern Baptists, and for 21 years, since the first political division took place in the Southern Baptist Convention, I have maintained that relationship. I feel I can no longer in good conscience do that," he said.
Carter said he supported his church's recent decision to send half of its mission contributions to the Atlanta-based Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The fellowship was formed in 1990 by Baptists dissatisfied that conservatives were exercising increasingly tight control over Southern Baptist agencies and institutions.
Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, announced their support for the moderate group in 1993, but until now, have never criticized the Southern Baptist Convention so sharply.
The Rev. James Merritt, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said Carter's decision was "unfortunate," but added that that he "evidently has a set of personal convictions that are at odds with what we believe as Southern Baptists."
The Rev. Daniel Vestal, coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, described Carter as "a convictional Baptist who has come to realize that the Southern Baptist Convention no longer represents those convictions."
Nine states have formed moderate Baptist groups loosely patterned after Texas Baptists Committed, the organization that sent out Carter's letter.
Delegates attending the annual session of the Baptist General Convention of Texas in Corpus Christi Oct. 30-31 will be asked to vote on a proposal that would reduce Texas funding to the Southern Baptist Convention's six seminaries and two other agencies by more than $5 million.
Former President Jimmy Carter, a Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher since he was 18 years old, is cutting ties with his denomination, which he says is becoming increasingly "rigid."
"This has been a very difficult thing for me," Carter said in an interview Thursday. "My grandfather, my father and I have always been Southern Baptists, and for 21 years, since the first political division took place in the Southern Baptist Convention, I have maintained that relationship. I feel I can no longer in good conscience do that."
The former president said after years of feeling "increasingly uncomfortable and somewhat excluded," he and his wife, Rosalynn, finally decided to disassociate themselves from the Southern Baptist Convention. The final straw was a denominational statement adopted in June that prohibits women from being pastors, says wives should be submissive to their husbands, and eliminates language from an earlier version that said "the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ."
The new statement, a revision of the Baptist Faith and Message, culminated a two-decade-long battle in the country's largest non-Catholic Christian denomination. Although Baptists say the statement is not a creed, the denomination's six seminaries and six national agencies, including the Alpharetta-based North American Mission Board, use it as a standard.
Carter, known for his work internationally in human rights and reconciliation, attempted several years ago to bring together opponents within the Southern Baptist Convention. The success of that effort was short-lived, he said.
"In my opinion, leaders of the SBC have become increasingly demanding in the specificity of their creed," he said. "I think there ought to be the ability for Baptists who have slightly different commitments to Christianity to get along, work together and love each other. ... I have always felt and feel very deeply that the ultimate interpreter of scripture is Jesus Christ."
Carter said he believes biblical passages concerning women have been taken out of context by Southern Baptist leaders.
"I'm familiar with the verses they have quoted about wives being subjugated to their husbands," he said. "In my opinion, this is a distortion of the meaning of Scripture. ... I personally feel the Bible says all people are equal in the eyes of God. I personally feel that women should play an absolutely equal role in service of Christ in the church."
The former president, whose evangelical Christianity gained national attention during his successful run for the White House in 1976, said he will continue to serve as a deacon and Sunday school teacher at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown, Plains. He said he and Rosalynn will associate with Baptist groups "who share such beliefs as separation of church and state ... a free religious press, and equality of women."
Carter said he hopes a letter presenting his views will go out to Baptist churches in Georgia before the Georgia Baptist Convention convenes in Savannah next month, when delegates, called messengers, will be asked to ratify the Baptist Faith and Message. Carter's statement is being mailed to 75,000 Baptists across the nation by the moderate group Texas Baptists Committed.
The president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Rev. James Merritt, pastor of First Baptist Church of Snellville, called Carter's decision to withdraw "an unfortunate turn of events." Merritt said he believes the former president is "a man of sincere faith."
But, the pastor said, "he evidently has a set of personal convictions that are at odds with what we believe as Southern Baptists."
Southern Baptists "cannot maintain a relationship with anyone that would come at the expense of what we believe to be biblical truth," Merritt said.
The Rev. Daniel Vestal, coordinator of the Atlanta-based Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, described Carter as "a convictional Baptist who has come to realize that the Southern Baptist Convention no longer represents those convictions." The convention has "become creedal and narrow and exclusionary," said Vestal, whose organization is a network of moderate Baptists with its own mission agencies, literature and annual meetings.
Carter and his wife have been affiliated with the fellowship since 1993.
Re: "Carter renounces Southern Baptist group Letters says convention creed too rigid."
I now have one more reason to admire Jimmy Carter. The former president eloquently expressed what so many Southern Baptist men and women have felt and experienced throughout the past 20 years.
I grew up in a very traditional Texas Southern Baptist church. It was a place of worship and fellowship, but I also learned there the importance of loving your neighbor, respecting the rights and opinions of others (even if you disagree) and how to seek truth. My pastor and my parents didn't stick a Bible or the Baptist Faith and Message under my nose and say "this is what you will believe." It was put upon me not only to listen, ask questions and pray for guidance but to read, study and learn myself. Within the Southern Baptist Convention today, if you disagree with the fundamentalist leadership, you are not a fellow believer with a difference of opinion ? you are someone with whom Southern Baptists "cannot maintain a relationship with." It is a shame because, despite the tendency of men such as Al Mohler and James Merritt to speak for all "we Southern Baptists," there remain, quite shockingly, Southern Baptists who believe in the separation of church and state, the rights of women and people of all races, and the competency of individual souls. These people continue to live and work as people of faith in God, Jesus and the Bible. There may even be a Democrat or two.
K. MOORE, Dallas
Mail from Atlanta Journal-Constitution URL: http://www.accessatlanta.com/partners/ajc/newsatlanta/carter/email.html It was interesting to read all of the reactions to "Carter's Statement". Most of the negative comments were caustic, and unloving. And they were very much like SBC leadership today. If you don't cross your "t" and dot your "i" just like we do, then we don't need you, we don't want you. Southern Baptists go to various cities and have "cross over's" to witness/save the lost in Los Vegas, Salt Lake City, etc., but these same Southern Baptists will not tolerate or welcome "traditional Baptists" to share a different opinion, some even going so far as suggest they are going to Hell. Do we really "love the 'lost'," when we cannot love our brother (traditional Baptist)? We use to be known as the most diverse organization of Baptists in the world, with the greatest Missionary enterprise!... As a retired pastor, I must say in every church I've pastored, the best deacons I have ever had have always been women. They were not ordained, but they were the primary force doing the real servant ministry in the church and community. The "deacons" were sitting in their meeting, 90% of time, talking about building and grounds committee work, almost never the "servant" role responsibility. They usually considered themselves in a role of authority. I'm almost 70, graduate of a great Baptist college and seminary. I grew up seeing the Home Mission, Commission, Index magazines. Thanks to Royal Ambassadors, our State and Convention leaders, missions has been a great focus in my life, but I cannot express it through the SBC. They have left my traditional Baptist upbringing. Yes, I'm saddened to have to agree with former President Jimmy Carter. He has set a humble example for other "traditional Baptists." -- Robert Cash I wish the Carters well. I know first hand how very difficult it is to leave the SBC, the home of my birth. But my grief was relatively short-lived as my eyes opened to a broader Christian world. I am now a pastor serving the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and God has blessed me in more ways than I could have imagined. My father, a Baptist deacon for 30 years, called last June after the convention to announce "I will never set foot in a Baptist church again. They are nothing more than a glorified hate group." He was happy to hear of the Carter's decision. Texas Baptists are considering disassociation from the SBC because of the New Baptist Faith and Message. I hope they will take President Carter's wise words seriously and refuse to be regulated in their beliefs. May God bring the power-hungry to their knees and bless all those who seek to humbly serve humankind. -- Rebecca Turner, Charleston, Illinois I can't believe that you are soliciting and printing the opinions of anyone and everyone who wants to criticize a specific religious denomination. You are way, way, way, way, over the line of responsible journalism (which is pretty much where you stay anyway). AJC, your intolerance is showing. This is religious persecution, cut and dried, poorly disguised as a news story. Maybe you should try this with Muslims, or Mormons or Jews. Maybe you can offer a news poll asking if people consider your "newspaper" (Hah) fair and unbiased. "Professional" if you dare! As for Mr. Carter. He has been a Sunday School teacher for many years. He understands the context of the theologies that are being debated. These are being oversimplified and misrepresented-represented by the religious bigots in the media who have never seen a critic of the SBC whom they didn't immediately agree with, facts or truth aside. Mr. Carter has failed to offer the moral wisdom to our nation during these eight years of Clinton decay. His failure to re-rebuke and disassociate himself with the darkness that is persistent in the White House is consistent with his wounding of the good people who believe that the Holy Bible is the Living Word of God. Jimmy Carter is one mortal man. He is not infallible. He has hurt us, but we will continue to love him. -- Larry Butler, Senoia Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter have shown great strength of character and conviction by disassociating themselves from the Southern Baptist Convention. I sincerely hope that young people will learn from their example: that equality is the cornerstone of democracy and that in the eyes of God, all are equal. -- Laura Stokes-Gray, Wheaton, Illinois I applaud President Carter's decision to cut all ties with the Southern Baptists organization. The Southern Baptists organization has become nothing more than another political action committee for the Republican Party. -- Ronald L. Cain, Elko Jimmy Carter is not GOD. In the beginning GOD made women for a helpmate for man. CHRIST is the head of the church; man is the head of women. They are in GOD'S word not equal, and Jimmy Carter or anyone else can't change it. GOD will have the last word. AMEN -- Glen Chastain, McCaysville I thank the Lord every day for President Carter and his leadership abilities in almost every aspect of life. He is my only living hero. I feel very sorry for the generations behind me. Who are their heros? The SBC is trying to turn back the clock. A clock that includes segregation, moral dictatorships and women barefoot and pregnant. Is that really what christianity is about? Not in my world and not in the Lord's bible! I know this was a hard decision for President Carter and I am proud of him for it. If only more people could try to radiate the caring and humanity President Carter practices in his every day life, the world would be a much better place. -- Nancy Boggs, Lawrenceville I have always believed in Jimmy Carter and although I have been a Republican for many years, I did vote for Jimmy. He is a true born-again man who is sometimes so honest that the world won't believe he is real! Our country had become so steeped in the law that grace went out the window. I am very proud that Jimmy Carter is now able to express his spiritual wisdom even though the Southern Baptist men will be very angry that a woman could possibly be given any high office by God Himself. Thank God that my husband, even though he is an elder in the southern Baptist church, treats me as an equal. In spiritual matters, he even admits that I spend more time in Bible Studies and teaching others about God than he does. We women deserve a lot of credit. If the teaching about Jesus and salvation had been left up to the men the past 50 years, we would be worse off than we are. Men have fallen down on the job. Who are we to tell God who He should choose to take on His work in the church or out of it? God formed man from dirt so don't get too uppity. -- Betty Price, Bennington, Kansas The president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) said that President Carter must have personal convictions that are at odds with those of his organization. My question is: the issues that the SBC and Mr. Carter have with each other, are they at odds with the will of God? If these are indeed the last days, then God is calling together his church to unite as one body, with Christ Jesus as it's head. There is to much fragmentation in the church, whether it be along racial, ideological or political lines, the fault lines run long and deep; God will not accept any reason, their's or anyone's, as significant cause to divide his church. The SBC is reported to represent some 16 million people: a lot of souls. Former President Carter is still a leader on the world stage and as a Christian more now than ever before as President. In our country and outside our borders, the SBC and President Carter have a great responsibility due to their high profiles and can have a great impact on more people than perhaps either have considered. The time is now at hand that all Christians of both great and small statue must unite in love to pull together, once and for all, the bride of Christ--his church. -- Gregory B.Thomas, Fitzgerald The God I worship will one day forgive those misguided souls who stand forth with ideals bordering on pure hatred. Some of those leaders probably think it's a good idea to round up the non Baptists and send them elsewhere. We have to remember how the SBC got it's start. I believe it was over slavery. They thought that was right, too. Some things never change. -- Lawrence Bernard, Lilburn I would agree with Mr. Carter if we were talkin' about being president of an organization, but since we are talking about a Fundamentalist Church whose "Constitution" is the Bible, I would have to say he is wrong. I too left the Southern Baptist Denomination but because they WERE NOT being fundamental in their beliefs and actions. Bully for those leaders who have regained their intestinal fortitude to return to their roots, the Bible. If Mr. Carter has "righteous indignation" over this issue, I wonder what has happened to his righteous indignation over the amorality of Bill Clinton and the preposterous lying of Al Gore? -- Jim Crawford, Lockhart, Tx I was taught that Christianity is NOT passing judgement, trying to bring as many people to Christ as possible, NOT shutting out anyone, that Christ loves EVERYONE. The SBC goes against everything I was taught and the teachings of the Bible. I am 100% on the Carters' side. I have the greatest respect for President and Mrs. Carter. They are fine people and set wonderful examples of how Christians should live. My family and I supported him as Governor and then President and we have no regrets. In my opinion, the SBC has become almost communistic. They tell their members how to feel, think, and believe. They don't offer guidelines! Wake up, Baptists. What we are facing now is so far removed from what the Baptist faith started out to be. I have been a Southern Baptist over 30 years. I was raised in a Southern Baptist church from the age of two. My entire family is SB. I am ashamed of what this denomination has become. It's more of a Jerry Falwell-type denomination and that makes me sick to my stomach. -- M.J. Grogan, Cumming You continue to be one of my heroes in this world, President Carter. I am not a member of your religion but I left my own church a few months ago as they were becoming less and less of an inclusive church. I understand the pain as I felt it also. Peace to you and yours in your continued spiritual growth. -- Pat Knight, Utah I applaud President Carter's recent statement that he is cutting ties with the Southern Baptist Convention. There are many of us who share his feelings but it takes someone of his stature to call attention to this misguided group who are in present leadership of the SBC. Hopefully this will encourage Baptists to research and educate themselves in scriptural truths as to what they believe and not rely on pharisaical pastors or church leaders for enlightenment. -- Peggy Boozer Jimmy Carter is RIGHT to alert Baptists to his "Baptist conscience" that had remained painfully silent for too long. I grew up in Georgia, and know first-hand as a Georgia Baptist preacher's kid what Southern Baptists "used to mean" and the differences found in today's convention. I am now the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky., which became the first church in Kentucky to formally "separate" from the Southern Baptist Convention on September 24, 2000. "We were compelled by our Baptist conscience" to separate. It does take courage, but now is the time to tell the truth and make the point that freedom is at stake. And there is no question that Jimmy Carter does stand for freedom and peace. NO CREED BUT THE BIBLE is a statement of Baptist freedom. The new Baptist Faith and Message statement forces one to conform or be disenfranchised. Lottie Moon, the famous SBC missionary, supported women in church leadership. She stood up to preach many sermons in China. Jimmy Carter has now stood up. Let's continue to join authentic Baptists like them. -- David Hinson Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter deserve our heartfelt respect, admiration, and gratitude for their courageous decision to disassociate themselves from the Southern Baptist Convention because of its increasingly rigid and limiting positions regarding women. As I read the AJC article, I couldn't help but think of the Women's Resource Center's candlelight vigil for victims of domestic violence in Decatur Thursday evening. A list was read, pages long, of the names and ages of women and girls who have died in the state of Georgia at the hands of their partners so far this year. Around the 40th name, I became overwhelmed with both despair for their lives and frustration for the fact that so many of us don't understand the connection between attitudes of inequality of women and these women's and girls' deaths. Whether intentional or not, the sweeping declarations of family and gender roles by many religions contribute to a culture within which acts of domination and violence can occur. Thank you, Jimmy and Rosalynn, for setting an example for men and women alike. -- Betty Woodman, Roswell As an outsider to the Baptist denomination (I'm Catholic, a group that is disliked and misunderstood in general by Southern Baptists and vice versa) growing up in the company of many Baptists, I have noticed that the leader of the congregation, the pastor, has an uncanny hold over the thoughts and beliefs of his congregation. I would often accompany my friends to their services and it was very interesting to see with what high regard the pastor is held. I think, though, that this may have hurt the Southern Baptist interests in that the followers are only as strong as their leaders. In the services that I attended, the pastors seemed ill-equipped to lead anyone and they were completely intolerable to anything different from themselves. I recognize that this is a small minority of leaders in that denomination, but it does not take many to damage. Being a Catholic, I fully recognize the damage that absolute authority can do to a faith (Crusades, Inquisitions). I also, though, have remained a Catholic because I do not feel that any man (or woman) has the authority to tell who, what, where, or why to worship. I feel that I have more autonomy being a Catholic. The Southern Baptist leadership may need to take a moment to remember that they are but a small minority of the mass humanity worshiping in this country and on this planet, and that a more tolerable, or at least, constructive method to their teaching would be more productive. Not everyone wants to listen to some man (and that's all they are, a mere man) tell them that they are going to burn in hell for this or that. Religion is not a fashion show or a gossip session or an opportunity to show to everyone else how religious you are. It is merely a tool to come closer to God in whatever way you see fit. And no, God does not care if you are a woman. That is ludicrous. -- Trey Dean, Jacksonville, FL I applaud the Carter's for following their conviction. But, I am sorry that so many letters have condemned them for failing to "properly" understand scripture. When I was young, the SBC taught me that the Blacks were a cursed race - and had the scripture to "prove" it. Whether by accident or design, it just goes to show that the SBC leadership is capable of making their interpretations based on local culture rather than eternal truth. And, from reading the letters about the Carters, I am glad that there are people out there who are convinced that they know the "truth" - and everybody else is in the dark. They just haven't figured out yet that ones' religious beliefs depends upon where one is born. If they had been born in India, they would be devout Hindu and think that belief system was the "truth." I guess God will have to educate them when they get to heaven. Incidently, I still haven't figured out how a God of love and inclusion has been turned into a religion of hate and exclusion. -- Jim Fitzgerald, Atlanta Mr. and Mrs. Carter have brought to the forefront of the press a matter which has been simmering for several years among many members of various Southern Baptist Churches in both Georgia, and in other states. In the past, each church has been considered "independent and free to choose" on such matters as women serving in the church. While primarily a "southern" church, the church is no longer contained within the boundaries of the old south from which it gained its strength, and in fact its influence is felt around the world. In many of these churches in other parts of the world, (as has been the case in many stateside churches) women are not only encouraged to become members, but are encouraged to serve in leadership roles. I know this from first hand experience as I have talked with the missionaries serving in these areas, and have visited some of the mission fields as well and from my personal knowledge of the various differences in the handling of the matter on individual church decisions. There was no dictated dogma from on high. I was raised as a Southern Baptist, and for most of my life thought I would die a Southern Baptist also. I was a part of the Journeyman Program in its second year in 1967--- a Southern Baptist World Mission program developed in part as an alternative response to the Peace Corps, with its primary purpose providing support to full time missionaries on the foreign fields. There were, as I recall, a number of females in the program which approximated, or perhaps surpassed the number of males in the program. ... Irony of ironies: my brother-in-law and sister-in-law both hold the same degrees from a Southern Baptist Seminary. He is permitted to preach, but she is not! Several years ago, my wife moved her membership "next door" to the Presbyterian Church in LaGrange. After two years I followed. She is now an elected officer of the church, and in fact has served communion at the church service, something which she could have never done in the local church. Women serve as greeters and ushers in the Presbyterian church service. Again, this is not permitted in the local First Baptist Church. The current battle in the Southern Baptist Convention reminds one of the same fights that occurred years ago when it was considered sacrilegious to have (Wednesday night) dinners in the church, to permit movies to be seen in the church halls, to have Halloween or Fall Festivals in the church, to have bake sales in the church, to sponsor youth fund raising activities such as car washes, or to have males and females go together on overnight camping trips, and on and on. Why the leadership of the convention has now elected to take a stance to deny women the right to preach and hold the elected offices in the church lacks logic except for the fact that those in power must fear the power of the women in the church. ... In some future time, the present leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention will be out of power, either though some well placed deaths or elections made by delegates elected by the women members of the various local Baptist churches. At that time, there will be a new issuance from the head offices ---"Women Are Welcomed!" and all will be forgotten. -- H.J. Thomas, Jr., LaGrange I agree with former President Carter. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church in rural Ga. but have long since began to read and form other opinions on the treatment of women. I feel thousands of women have suffered abuse because of the submit teaching. Many so called God fearing men have battered their women believing this was their "right" according to the Bible. These "men are the head of the home" teachings have kept women "in their place" for generations. And in many, many instances this place has been a cold, dark, lonely and painful place to dwell. Jimmy Carter may shed some needed light on this particular subject and get more people, both men and women, to examine their beliefs for the betterment of so many in this position. -- Lorene Rutherford, Gunnison, CO Former President Carter has lived an exemplary life in terms of service to others. But Christians are not going to have to answer to Jimmy Carter for their beliefs and practices, but rather to their own consciences and to God Almighty. Therefore, if a Christian interprets the Bible to say that women should not serve as pastors and men should take the leadership role in the home, that is what they should teach and practice regardless of what Mr. Carter thinks or says. -- Randy Simmons, Fort Myers, FL The present fundamentalist leadership in the SBC is strikingly similar to other rigid religious groups around the world. They are intolerant of any discussion of their interpretations of what they believe you should believe. They themselves represent the false prophets they constantly warn against. -- J. Helton, Gainesville Mr. and Mrs. Carter have a right to belong, or not to belong to any Christian denomination they wish. However, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and are first citizens of Heaven. In cases such as these, I do not believe Christians should be running to the press with decisions concerning their walk with the Lord. Would Jesus have been pleased by a Christian taking this kind of decision to the world? This is a decision that should be made based on a personal relationship with Christ. These are not the times to be turning against our brothers and sisters. These are times to join together in a united fellowship with other believers. I see an increasing trend in Christianity towards taking the world's view as valid instead of the truth in Scripture. But didn't Jesus say this would happen, that some would turn away from the faith? I'm not saying that Mr. and Mrs. Carter have done this only that it was a poor decision to make this issue a matter of publicity. While many have problems with the beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention, I see that they are attempting to stick with the Word of God, something we can all learn from because if we don't, when the time comes for our Lord's return, we will not be ready. Are we going to fight the good fight? Are we going to make it to the end? Some of what the Bible teaches us is not popular in today's churches or in the world for that matter but it is the truth. Sometimes the truth is hard to swallow but watering down the Word is condemned in Scripture. Is the Bride of Christ going to be lukewarm when he returns? I urge you brothers and sisters to read the Word, accept it's truth and to concentrate on bringing Jesus Christ to a dying world instead of showing it dying faith. -- Sue Comen, Enfield, CT I moved to NYC last year after living in Atlanta for 13 years. Ya gotta love Jimmy Carter! He saw the wrong that is done by the Southern Baptist Convention, and did something about it. He split. Good for him. This is an organization that preaches and thrives on hatred and intolerance, and I applaud him. -- Don Wagner, NY Although Jimmy Carter is leaving the Southern Baptist faith of his father and grandfather, he is staying true to his protestant heritage. Since Martin Luther first divorced the Catholic Church, the protestant church has split over 25,000 times over doctrinal interpretations. Like serial divorcees going from marriage to marriage looking for satisfying mates, those who rejected the authority of the Church that was recognized worldwide for 15 centuries as the Church of Jesus Christ, found no problem discarding succeeding partners who displeased or disagreed with them. President and Mrs. Carter continue to follow this 500 year protestant tradition when they leave the Southern Baptist Convention to found a church which agrees with their private interpretation. -- Linda Williams Cattanach, Blairsville As a... Catholic woman called and gifted by God for ordained ministry, yet banned by gynophobic officials of the institution, I support and applaud Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter's decision and their public announcement. I've admired Mr. Carter for many years as a true Christian, and now I admire him even more - along with his wife. It is past time for church officials (in any and every church) to recognize that the difference Paul notes (between what God reveals to him, and what HE believes) is found in many places in Scripture. And the language itself has changed so that there is real reason to doubt the community which followed the disciples of James in fact meant that ministry was restricted to men! I'm a theologian and a woman. On both counts I continue to struggle with where and why God is calling me - to stay with the Roman Church, to move to another Catholic church, to another church altogether? I know the struggle, the pain, the confusion, the danger. My prayers, and my gratitude, and my admiration go out to the Carters. -- Ginny Richards, Milwaukee WI I admire President Carter's decision. He has always lived his faith and his track record in that regard is more than shining. While I do not share his politics, I do share his feeling regarding the SBC. I am a product of a Southern Baptist background going back several generations. My wife is also proud of her background as a Southern Baptist. We are very active members of a Southern Baptist Church, and hope that our convention won't reach a point that we will have to look elsewhere to have a place to worship our Lord and Saviour. We are disturbed that someone in a position of clerical authority such as Rev. Merritt would dare to assume for us what to think or how to act. Jesus came to equalize the genders and the message of Christianity is meant to unify. Historically Baptists have prided themselves on the importance of the priesthood of the believer and that means that we all come to Christ the same without any human differences such as race and gender acting as barriers. For someone to tack on a prerequisite creed is as heretical as anything that these "Johnny-come lately" protectors of our SBC faith/power-brokers ever level against anyone who question their agenda and particularly their motives. I pray for laypersons in the SBC to wise-up and take the reigns away from these upstarts before they destroy what God has blessed for years, for political pottage, before all of us who believe look elsewhere for a spiritual home. -- Kenneth W. Russell, Calhoun In reference to Carter's standing up for women and their role of service, I bring to your attention the scriptures in the book of John where Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. I challenge this: Who did Jesus ask to go and tell the disciples about this encounter? A WOMAN! Mary Magdalene! If Jesus himself gave Mary Magdalene the authority to go tell this awesome news to the disciples, it's biblical proof that women and men can both spread the good news of our Lord and Saviour equally! John 20:10-18 -- Missi Rich, Loganville I too, left the Southern Baptist Church, but the reason was methodology, not theology. As far as I'm concerned, their teaching is biblically accurate and though, I'm sure some churches stray, most are right on. My problem is that I don't like the way (method) they do things. One may go to two churches of the same denomination, but choose one over the other and not even know they are doing it for methodology. The Bible is not understood today because it is politically incorrect to think in black and white. All ideas, morals, thoughts and ideologies have been watered down to some shade of gray. But, even in today's world, there are absolutes. how many answers are there to 2 + 2? The Bible, also, is an absolute. We just don't understand everything in it, because we finite, while our God is infinite. I, personally, wouldn't have it any other way. To have a God that is imperfect is a scary thing, no matter how Star Trek tells it. Man and woman are equals, in marriage and the eyes of God. Submissiveness has nothing to do with equality. It has to do with roles and responsibility. That is where the Bible gets so misquoted, misunderstood and yes, even abused by "Christians" that don't know better. Yes, Mr. Carter, leave the SBC. But leave quietly as God commands. If it is because of methodology, then recognize it. If it is because of doctrine, be careful. There may be more gray than just your hair. -- Ron Beck, Kennesaw If Carter was as good a Southern Baptist as he was a president, the Southern Baptists should be dancing in the streets that he has resigned! -- William K. Hewlett, Tuscunbia, AL This is really not about theology. It is about whether some religious hierarchy can tell you what the Bible means or what you should believe. Real Baptists have never been willing to let someone else tell them what they should believe. Jimmy and Rosalyn are the real Baptists. -- Buddy Gill, Stone Mountain Question. What is the basis for the SBC excluding women? Yes, I know their interpretation of a sentence here and a sentence there says it will be so. But what specifically makes a man more capable or qualified to lead a congregation than a woman? The answer is quite simple, actually. The same as it has been for thousands of years. In a an effort to retain power and avoid addressing the insecurities that certain men feel in the presence of equally qualified women, they present what they hope people will see as incontrovertible evidence that God wanted it this way. They see it as a tool to manipulate their flock without the need to answer to those who might question their motives or offer less archaic means of disseminating their message. Where would the SBC be if it only accepted monetary contributions from men? If God were to appear before us today in the year of Our Lord, 2000, I wonder what his response would be. After all, we are God's children, no? I applaud President Carter's decision. I, for one, have discontinued my relationship with my local church due to similar views. It is always a difficult decision to discontinue a relationship that has been and continues to be pillar of strength and support. Religion is a powerful and wonderful thing for millions of people throughout the world but exclusion in any form on the basis of the written word runs counter to the norms of a civilized society and one could say, certain interpretations of the scripture. Lucky for the SBC and other groups, the greatest nation on earth provides for the severation of church and state. -- Patrick Lee, Atlanta Mr. Carter's statement is laudable but late. The Southern Baptist Convention was seized by Shi'ite Baptists fully 10 years ago. Nothing in their new creed is anything close to a surprise to anyone who's been paying attention. What's surprising is that so many free and faithful Baptists continue living in that dysfunctional family, waiting for "something to happen" to return it to "the way it used to be." This pendulum is not going to swing back. The fundamentalists took it all the way to the right and broke it off. -- John Hewett, Fort Worth My father, Dr. James P. Wesberry, who served as an ordained Southern Baptist minister for 66 years, as pastor of Atlanta's Morningside Baptist Church for 31 years, and on the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention for 18 years (longer than any other person, so far as I know), would have been greatly saddened by the decision of his friend President Carter. During the latter years of his life, my father was similarly saddened as he witnessed many of his dearly beloved friends in the Southern Baptist denomination hardening their positions on several issues. He remained a friend of all of them, no matter what their views. If he could talk to me today, by telephone, as he did often during his last years when some national event might occur, I am sure that he would remind me that the love of Jesus Christ must supersede all differences. That the basic belief of the Baptists - the belief that makes Baptists different from all other religious denominations - is that the individual Baptist church members must read and reason the Scriptures for themselves. Baptists have no creed other than the Bible. They never have and they never will. No statement by any organized body has any authority over any Baptist or any Baptist Church. ... Because of his long devotion to it, I cannot possibly conceive of James P. Wesberry ever separating himself from the Southern Baptist Convention -- nor can I conceive of him ever condemning the sincere decision of another to do so, nor letting such an action interfere with his friendship and esteem. Yours truly, -- James P. Wesberry, Jr., Alexandria, VA I commend Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter for their decision to publicly distance themselves from the Southern Baptist Convention. The Carters are people of unimpeachable integrity who exemplify the best in Baptist life. They have continued to be tireless advocates for peace and justice when they have no future political ambitions and nothing to gain but the satisfaction of being obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ. Like the Carters, I was a longtime Southern Baptist. I am a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville (1976, before the fundamentalist takeover). I was a Southern Baptist pastor for more than 20 years, serving churches in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, and Maryland. Like the Carters, I have found a more hospitable home in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I am still a southerner, still a Baptist (as Will Campbell would say "baptist with a small 'b'") and still a minister of the Gospel, but I am no longer a Southern Baptist. I share the Carters' conviction that men and women should be equals in home, church, and society. This long after Pentecost, a woman preaching the gospel should be controversial only insofar as the gospel itself is a controversial message. As a minister, I have come to the conviction that I will not lead a communion service unless both men and women are serving--having only men serve the Lord's Supper sends the message to girls and women that they can never be more than second-class members of the church. Of course, that is exactly the message that Southern Baptist fundamentalist leaders want to send. To be consistent with my Christian convictions, I had to disassociate myself from Southern Baptists. I commend the Carters for doing the same. -- Lamar Wadsworth, Baltimore, MD Jimmy Carter's separation does not come as a shock to me. He is a left-winger in a not-so-subtle disguise. As a professing Christian, the former President supports abortion and many other things that go against the Scriptures. I don't think that he is the one to be telling us what the Bible "really" says. Mr. Carter needs to study his Bible more. -- David DeMar, Marietta The bible teaches that once one is under the grace of God, he or she does not need a teacher to understand the scriptures. Therefore, it is not important to me what the SBC believes or what Mr. Carter believes. In most cases the scriptures are easy to read and understand. The important thing is for each individual to read the Bible frequently and thoroughly, without written or verbal comment or interpret ion from anyone. If you do this you will arrive at the truth as it applies to your life. I left the SBC years ago but for different reasons than Mr. Carter. I don't recall that it was a national news event and Mr. Carter's leaving the SBC should not be either. He could have done it quietly without trying to draw attention to himself. -- Henry Pickelsimer, Fair Play, SC It is so sad that people of GOD can not be open to other people of God. Others will know who we are because we love one another. Jimmy Carter has certainly demonstrated his love for others and is deeply saddened to state his view. Carter has tried to reconcile the differences but can not, and has dusted his sandals. I admire his Biblical actions. The only demonstration of love by the leaders of the SBC is their love for their own opinions. This group is NOT "Baptist." This group is "Southern" and thirsty for power. Like the Southerners over 140 years ago, their opinion is more important than the union of the people. Fortunately, we do not have to fight to preserve the union. Someone greater than us all has done that. Thanks be to GOD. -- J.B. Gilbert, Atlanta While I supported Mr. Carter for president by voting for him, I really do not care what his or his wife's views are about whatever religious beliefs they have. I have seen Mr. Carter only once in my life. He came to Hawkinsville, Ga., to campaign for Mike Dukasis. I have admired the ex-president for the work that he has done for peace and I truly believe that he has a kind heart for humanity. I would believe that while his concern for his fellow man may have a Christian flavor, his religious views and actions are his own and should remain hat way. The fact that he joined the association or the fact that he dropped out should be of no concern to no one but himself. The separation of church and state should be very prevalent here. -- Fred Wilson, Cochran I was ordained in 1987 after going to a Baptist College (Judson College, Marion, AL), a Baptist Seminary (New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary), and getting six units of Clinical Pastoral Education at two major hospitals. I have been on countless interviews in state and private hospitals where they hired a man almost 60 years old, even in women's prisons! I have interviewed knowing that hospitals have mostly female staffs, and many patients who have miscarriages, stillbirths, rape, spousal abuse (mostly female victims), abused children, hysterectomies, and mastectomies. A man may be very compassionate, but have no understanding of what it is like to be a woman. If there is no common ground of understanding, the impact of the crises may be ineffectively addressed. In our society, many women do not open up to men about very private issues. Women are generally more open with their mothers growing up, and continue that through life. So many women are not getting the ministry they need. We have many other social problems in our society. Pastors who become involved sexually after beginning therapy with female members is common. Having a female minister for counseling women who need spiritual leadership will stop many of the "fallen minister" occurrences. My grades were better than the majority of the men in seminary, but I have had so many problems getting a job in the ministry. I could be a male convict who equaled Ted Bundy, and find a preaching job before any woman in this United States because of the way two verses are interpreted by women and men, who want women to equal children in spiritual authority in the Southern Baptist Convention.... I find that most of the discrimination and diminishment of women's spirituality is by women, not men. Women who spoke in the Holy Bible had power to Jesus. Women make up the majority of the congregations in this country, and they are shaping the congregations to have a male speaker. There was an uproar when women became announcers on television, but now it is accepted. One day women will not be dependant on a man to speak for her. One day women will not be children for life in the Southern Baptist Denomination. -- Charlotte Fairchild, B.A., M.Div., C.P.E., Hiram If Jesus were to come back If Jesus were to come back today, I have a strong feeling that he'd be the first to condemn the SBC, and praise former President Clinton for showing the true spirit of Christianity. Just as I feel that he'd condemn Pat Robertson and all others like him. Too many people use their religion as a shield to hide behind while they practice the worst forms of hatred and bigotry. That makes their actions all the more intolerable, because in any religion, the use of that religion as a weapon to oppress or otherwise bring harm to - emotionally or physically or spiritually - is counter to the teachings of love, peace and helping your fellow man. It also cheapens the religion for those who truly follow their faith, and makes it hard for them to feel good about those they pray with. One also has to think about the fact that the SBC seems to pick a new person or group to put on their "hit list" every year. So far it's been gays and lesbians, Jews, and women. Who will they pick next year? And what happens when they've run out of people to add to that list, and they've isolated themselves totally? They must stop using their religion as a shield to hide behind while their behavior in contrary to all religious teachings. Yes, they may get more members, for fear breeds fear, hatred breeds hatred and bigotry breeds bigotry. President Carter was brave enough to stand up and throw the first sword to crack through that hatred and bigotry to let the light shine in. Also notice that while he's denounced the SBC, he has not denounced or left his Baptist Church. It's not the Baptist Church that's the problem, it's a group of people who claim to speak for all of them. The question will be who within the SBC will be brave enough to follow him? -- Carol Levy, Powder Springs I have always admired Jimmy Carter as a man and appreciated the work he has done to help the homeless with the Habitat for Humanity program. I have always believed him to be a man of deep moral and ethical conviction but in this matter he is wrong. 2 Peter chapter 1 verse 20 states "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation." That means that I cannot interpret the scripture because the scripture comes from God, not man. Read verse 21 "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." I cannot interpret the traffic laws of the highway to suite myself. I must obey the law designed and written by someone else with authority to do so. I cannot chose to impose my ideas, wishes or desires upon Scripture but accept it as God has inspired it to be recorded. He is the sole author and authority. I have been a Southern Baptist for 50 years and the day we stop believing and practicing the Bible, then I will cease being a Southern Baptist. -- Emory G. May, Odell, Ore. My wife and I were raised in the Baptist church from birth. When they basically indicated that women were inferior or second class to men with these statements made by the SBC that was the end of our membership. We left over three years ago and joined another denomination that is a bit more tolerant and sensible. We applaud President and Mrs. Carter for their stand and all their work to make a better world. The response by some to this decision indicates the "I'm always right" attitude of the SBC and it's churches. I intend to pray for this group. -- Tommy and Kim Powell, Columbus Like many of those who have responded to this opinion poll, I, too, was raised Southern Baptist (SBC). I attended one of the convention's seminaries and was married to a SBC minister for 20 years. The changing stand on women and the alteration of the Baptist Faith and Message were our breaking points. We are now both members of other denominations. Paige Patterson, Charles Stanley, and similar sanctimonious and self-righteous people announced their plans to "take over" or "take back" the convention back in the '70s. It sounded preposterous at the time, but through devious and calculated means, they have succeeded. Some, like Dan Vestal, moved to form a new alliance among Baptists. Many took their talents to other denominations, who now benefit from the excellent training and education we received before the conservatives began their purging of the SBC. The Carters join thousands across the country who mourn, and miss, the SBC that gave us our Christian grounding as children and youth. That SBC no longer exists. It has been bastardized by a group of zealots. Too often remembered for his shortcomings as president, Carter is, perhaps, one of the most respected and honorable world leaders today. Sadly, his split with the SBC is emblematic of thousands of nameless talented Christians who have done the same. The SBC has been the looser. Christianity lives on. -- Dr. Judy Butler, Carrollton I heartily endorse I heartily endorse the actions of former President Carter and his wife. I am certain the Carters do not wish to draw attention to themselves; rather, they seek to expose the serious decline in spiritual sensitivity now present in the Southern Baptist Convention. Acts of spiritual conscience must be viewed individually. The Carters, particularly the former President, have long held that certain elements of the SBC no longer understand the message of the Gospel. A narrowing of biblical focus has weakened the message and growth of the SBC. Many in the denomination have wondered about its obvious stagnation in numbers and missions. While the Carters have observed proper church manners through their disagreements with the literalists, almost benighted, approach among many Southern Baptists, they reached a point of exhaustion and disillusionment. I find it hard to avoid recalling a certain SBC president who alleged only a few years ago that God does not hear the prayers of Jews. It is easy to understand, then, that the Carters, who confront even more bigotry this time against women, would find the SBC an embarrassment. The Bible tells us that the Pharisees were good and decent people of the highest character but overbound by a prepossessed view of the law to the exclusion of many who would believe. Might we, perhaps even the Carters, now recognize similar traits in the leadership of the SBC, that is, a self-righteous, even evil propensity to judgment, condemnation. ... -- Garison Saltonstall, an Episcopalian, Boston, Mass. I agree and support Former President Jimmy Carter. I will continue to support the Crossroads Baptist Church in my home town, but I can no longer support the SBC. -- Shirley Trantham, Valdosta I say this is the best thing that has happened to the Southern Baptists in a long time! Good riddance! -- Pat Tippett, Baxley I have been a Baptist since childhood in Valdosta, Ga. I totally agree with Former President Jimmy Carter. I have chosen to relinquish my ties to the Southern Baptist Convention because of the same reasons. I will continue my membership in the Johnson Ferry Baptist Church of Marietta but I will no longer support the SBC. -- Barbara Largent, Marietta It is unfortunate that "men" use the clothe of religion to justify exclusionary, racist views and actions. The true ministry of Jesus Christ is far from that. There is no doubt that President and Mrs. Carter exemplify true service and commitment to others. Their legacy continues. I applaud him and Mrs. Carter, once again, for taking the stand for equality and justice for all. -- Deborah J. Richardson, Atlanta Can't help but feel this is another case of changing religion to fit political correctness. -- Jim Brown, Marietta I agree strongly with President Jimmy Carters' firm Christian stand. The very first Evangelist was the woman at the well. The truth is in the majority of Churches in the USA, with out the support and hard, dedicated work of the women, the church would suffer greatly. What makes a man more qualified to minister than a woman? God bless all men and women called by God to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a needy world. Remember who taught and guided us in our first steps. God bless Godly Women everywhere. It is time we recognize them of their true worth and comittment to the mission of the church, "To go to all the world and share the Good-News to a world greatly in need of Good-News." ... God Bless Women everywhere, continue to stand-up and be counted. -- Virgil M. Seaber, Global Evangelism Network International I agree with former President Jimmy Carter. I believe that God uses willing vessels to build His kingdom whether they be male or female. The ultimate mission of the church is to get peoples souls saved. Women bring a different element to the ministry. They are often more compassionate and are many times better suited to empathize with people who are hurting and lost. Women were created to nurture. The word of God says that He is no respecter of persons. So why would God discriminate against women being in ministry? Former President Carter is right in saying that the scripture has been taken out of context. God loves us all the same, and being biased is not part of His character. -- Thujuana S. Lawton, Anchorage, Alaska I certainly agree with President Carter's decision. I have been a Southern Baptist for 49 years. But when the fundamentalist leaders of the SBC led the convention away from the historical Baptist belief in the priesthood of the believer and the autonomy of the local church, the Southern Baptist Convention left me. I still hold to the historical Baptist beliefs. The Southern Baptist Convention changed, but I didn't. President Carter is one of the most Christ-like men that I have ever known. I admire his courage in taking a stand. -- Jerry Matthews, North Augusta, SC I, too, like Carter, have deep roots in the Southern Baptist Convention. My great grandfathers, on both sides were Baptist ministers. But for a long time I have felt disenfrancised by my denomination. Women do most of the work IN the church and FOR the church. Women make up the majority of the membership of most if not all churches. Go any Sunday and count heads to see if that is not the case. My own husband, earlier ordained as a deacon in another town, has refused to accept the nomination of deacon as long as the local church where we attend refuses to allow women the same opportunity. What a brave thing for the Carters to do. I am sure it has not come easily and without sadness. Religious membership is a unique experience...usually first introduced by parents.... and therefore the rejection has emotional feelings of rejection of the parents also. I can only imagine the many hours of conversation and prayer that these two world figures must have had. I commend them and gain strength and solace from their action. Thank you, Mr. President, for continuing to be a "light in the darkness" in this world of shaky values, commitment and moraless behavior. -- Barbara Dean, Eastman I am saddened that President Carter has made this a public forum. I do not agree with much af this article and wish someone at the AJC would get their facts straight before printing misquotes and inaccurate information about SBC, interpreting scripture, and even what our Baptist Faith & Message stands for. From one Southern Baptist, to a liberal (one-sided) reporter, please report the facts straight and clear and don't "tilt" one way so badly toward one group or another. If I didn't know better, I would think this is a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship paper the way you continually slant the truth. -- Len Taylor, Alpharetta Carter severely overestimates his notoriety if the thinks a letter being mailed out to SBC delegates will have any impact. The former President's membership in the SBC will be replaced by 100 others who share the ideals and beliefs of Southern Baptists nationwide. I think in this day and age of tolerance, we probably need a little more rigidity. The Bible says broad is the way to leads to destruction, but the way to Christ is narrow. -- Brian Winn, Hoschton A man who was weak as a president is now showing his stripes in regards to his faith and upbringing. Instead of defending the Word of God, he is caving in to political correctness. This is the religious equivalent of boycotting the 1980 Summer Olympics in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. What a wimp! -- Greg White, Canton I agree with Carter about disassociating himself with the Southern Baptist convention, but I do not agree with his claim that the Bible supports his claim that women should not be submissive to men. The Bible does call for men to lead their families in home matters and does not have any new testement example of a woman having a preaching role in a church. As a matter of fact, only in one instance in the old testement, that of Deborah did a woman have authority over a man. The main reason for his decision however, that the Southern Baptists are rigid and are allowing their "creed" to be more important than the bible itself. -- Doris Wilson, Norcross President Carter's decision is just another example of a life lived with integrity. I also grew up in a Southern Baptist church, as did my Mother and Grandmother. But, I have grown increasingly antagonized by the narrow-minded, intolerant group now running the convention. Who is man to say a woman called by God cannot preach? Women are the glue which binds churches together and the workhorses of those churches. To say they can serve but only so far is to marginalize their contributions. In today's world religion needs the hearts, hands and minds of all its members. The oganization should work harder on healing itself, such as eliminating the rife racism in some churches, rather than dissecting certain passages to make a place for women and keep them in their place. Church members of all ages are finding recent convention pronouncements repugnant. The splitting of the denomination is a certainty. -- Penny L. Pool, Selma Every organization, religious or otherwise, exists for some purpose. When a member of the organization and the organization find themselves to be working at cross purposes, it is right for them to part company. It is not clear to me whether the SBC or Mr. Carter has the better theology. However, it is clear that Mr. Carter has certainly demonstrated the love of Christ in his life. -- Mark Wiman, Acworth While I have never agreed with Mr. Carter's politics, I do think he is an honorable, moral man. His politics have always leaned to the "left" so it is really no surprise to read of this decision. He has every right to find an organization with which he shares similar beliefs; or he may simply not be a part of any group at all. At the same time, Southern Baptists have the same right -- to have their own beliefs and standards to follow. They have the right to follow their beliefs just as Mr. Carter follows his. You may agree or disagree with Southern Baptists, but they have a right to their beliefs, too. -- Brenda Young, Social Circle The question we would like to ask the SBC: Are they going to change the names of their two major annual mission offerings? They are named after women: Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon. Both of these women were missionaries during difficult times. However, maybe not as difficult as it is to be a women in the SBC today. We admire President and Mrs. Carter very much and would like to thank them for their lives of service to God through their service to others. We both cast our first votes for president for President Carter and we've never been ashamed of that decision. -- Tom Robert and Susan Washington, Tecumseh, Oklahoma As a former Southern Baptist living in Boston, I applaud the Carters for leaving what has become a narrow-minded, fundamentalist sect. The Southern Baptists have removed the middle ground upon which all Christians respect differing religious views and used that ground to build a fortress to prop up their increasingly intolerant view of women in general and other Christians in particular. This sect should no longer be called baptist for not only have they set themselves up against a secular world, but also against the most basic of baptist principles- the God-given freedom of the individual to determine their relationship to God. -- Tom Mullinax, Boston As a member of the First Baptist Church of Augusta, Georgia (Birthplace of the Southern Baptist Convention), I agree with Carter's decision. Our church nominates and votes in females as deacons as well as employs females in various pastorial positions. However, since the SBC is divided, I find it very ironic that the founding church is capable of maintaining such an "open door" policy towards those who administer to the congregation. After all, when a person is called to ministry, is their gender taken into consideration by God? I don't think so! Some of the most powerful messages Ihave heard have come from female ministers and teachers. The division within the SBC exemplifies the difference of opinions that permeates our society as human beings. We must all agree to disagree, for neither side has the ability as a human being to make such a spiritual judgement upon another. However, when ones spiritual nature directs them toward decisions such as Mr. Carter has made, he or anyone else must be respected as a human being. I hope those who are upset by his decision will think twice before passing judgement. -- Edlyn Elliott, Augusta Everything that the Southern Baptist Convention leadership states is right on with the Bible. People just need to open it up and read it with an open mind. I've noticed that the critics of the SBC leadership say they want to interpret the scriptures for themselves but then condemn the SBC leadership for doing the same. It always seems the "moderates" or "liberals" of any religion are the biggest name-callers and are the most intolerant of other people's beliefs, all in the name of "tolerance" of course. -- Carrie McKernie, Augusta President and Mrs. Carter have done what many of us did in our hearts a long time ago. -- Charlene Smith Right on! I was raised as a Southern Baptist and long ago, left that denomination and have since left all organized religion. It makes me feel proud to have someone as prominent and as humanitarian as President Carter and his wife to renounce what is a narrow-view of what Christianity is supposed to be about. I am disappointed that Carter did not address the issue of homosexuality which the Baptists have deemed an abomination; I cannot believe he would agree with that statement either. But, small steps are important, too. -- Carroll Myers, Atlanta I agree with President Carter's assessment of the present leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention. I, like the former president, have been a Southern Baptist all of my life. Up until the past 20 years, we believed in being saved by grace through faith and then, through our personal relationship with God, we were able to interpret the scripture ourselves. Like President Carter, I do not believe that has changed, just because the present Convention leaders say so. -- Sue Galbraith, Marietta I admire Mr. Carter for standing up for his convictions about the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe there will be more people who will follow in his footsteps. As for women being submissive to their husbands, the Bible says: In Christ, there is no male or female. -- Mary Allen, Fayetteville Who cares! He failed the American people at being president, he deserted the hostages and now he's running out on the SBC. It makes one wonder if the homeless are next. -- Ray S. Warren II, Cumming, Ga. I agree with Jimmy Carter 100 percent. The leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention have moved away from what we Baptists have in the past believed. The leaders have set themselves up as an elite group that knows more than rest of the people, and have left the ideal of priesthood of believers. The new Baptist Faith and Message is not what Baptists have historically stood for. It is intended to be an "instrument of doctrinal accountability" to be used as a litmus test as a creed instead of a statement of faith. Thank GOD for men like Jimmy Carter. Thank You for your article, was very good. -- George Petty, Tulsa, Okla. Referencing your article and the quotes made by Mr. Carter and The Southern Baptist Convention, I really have to question whether Mr. Carter understands the bible as well as he says he does. Additionally, I have to question whether or not he understands the Southern Baptist denominational statement. I have never, ever heard a Southern Baptist preacher say that women are subservient to men, or that they were less of a person because they were not men. When God created man and women he created them differently. In other words, men and women have different roles on this earth. It's not what I say, but what God says that should be most important. The trouble with mankind is that we want to re-interpret what God has already said in His word, the Bible. Secondly, the Bible also says that if you have been divorced you can not be a preacher. I may not agree with that, but that is what God has said and like or not I have to accept what He has said. Lastly, I commend the Southern Baptists for taking a stand for what they believe God has said about certain issues relevant to our times. I further believe that they studied the issues they stand for, weighed their opinions against what God has said, and took a stand for what God has said even though it flies in the face of popular opinion. While I am not a Southern Baptist, I commend them for keeping the faith and finishing the race. -- Robert W. Boatright, Memphis, Tenn. My name is Marilyn and I am a recovering Southern Baptist... I went to church for 2 hours every Sunday morning, 2 hours every Sunday evening, and 1 hour every Wednesday as I was growing up. There were many wonderful people in the church that shared their lives, homes, and families with me. I therefore respect the religion that gives many of them strength and security. However, I knew even as a very young girl that subjegating me for my gender was wrong. I realized even as they drilled otherwise into me that I was as important in the eyes of a gracious God as anyone else. We all have a Holy Spirit within us. Defining that and connecting it to a group of people or organization is important to most of us. I am grateful for my background. And, while I understand Southern Baptists I have chosen to find that spirit within the Church of Religious Science. I will attend the Southern Baptist church many times again in order to be with those that I love and show my respect and support for them as individuals. But, I know that the message in it's entirity there is not enough for me. I believe that the universe is big enough for everyone to prosper and be loved in their lives. And, as times change I believe that we have an obligation to learn from them and pass that knowledge on to future generations. -- Marilyn D. Bowden, Atlanta I admire and respect President Carter for taking a stand. As a lifetime Southern Baptist, I am saddened to say that the denomination I knew has ceased to exist. As for Rev. James Merritt's comment that Southern Baptists "cannot maintain a relationship with anyone that would come at the expense of what we believe to be biblical truth" I say, how dare you presume speak for me. Here's one Southern Baptist woman who stands for the priesthood of the believer and the autonomy of the local church. Thank you President Carter for globally stating what we all should have voiced locally. -- Julie Briscoe Reagan, St. Louis Hurrah for Jimmy and Rosalynn to set the right Christian examples of Jesus by following the spirit of the Bible and not just the literal interpretation of its laws, as that pious bunch of "Holier-than-Thou" Southern Baptist have been preaching. Does this all have a familiar ring? My how History repeats itself, even 2,000 years later. -- Opal Freer Spencer, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. I say this is the best thing that has happened to the Southern Baptists in a long time! Good riddance! -- Pat Tippett, Baxley, Ga. President Carter's statements validate what moderate Baptists have been saying for years. The Southern Baptist Convention has shifted its focus from a group that sought to fellowship with all Baptists regardless of their individual differences in belief to one that now prescribes a very narrow set of beliefs and refuses to fellowship with anyone who disagrees with them. I applaud President Carter's courage and forthrightness to go public with his feelings. -- Joel Heaton, Jr., Pastor, Hope Memorial Baptist Church, Sharpsburg, Ga. Even though President Carter and I would disagree on many political issues, I have to support him in his decision to disassociate himself with the Southern Baptist Convention. I have been a Southern Baptist most of my adult life and have seen my denomination turned into a politicized circus. I am many times ashamed to call myself a Southern Baptist because many of the biblical views held by the leadership make us look like clowns. We should never deny the essentials of our Christian faith, but our views on what I consider to be nonessentials have become a stumbling block to those who are sincerely seeking and desire a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Whatever happened to the saying "in essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, and in all things charity?" I am convinced that President Carter understands and believes the essentials of the Christian faith but would appreciate freedom in his beliefs on the nonessentials. As well, his life has certainly been the epitome of charity. -- Alan McKnight, Duluth I am in total agreement with President Carter and admire his courage for this stand. I, too, have been a Southern Baptist my entire life and am deeply offended by the Convention's stance about women serving in the church. What arrogance for someone else to say whether or not God has called me to serve. If all churches interpret the scriptures the narrow way the SBC leaders do, then no woman could sing, play the organ, teach a class or pray in public. Frankly, the church would die quickly without the service of women because men just aren't willing to do the menial tasks. I have not left the Southern Baptist Convention, but it has certainly left me. -- Carol Manwarren, Santa Teresa, N.M. My wife and I play an absolutely equal role in our 50 years of marriage. We submit ourselves one to another in the reverence of God. Ephesians. 5:21. Submission is not an ugly word. President Carter is a good man, but politically and scripturally he is wrong on many things. In the beginning we were made male and female. My wife can do many fatherly things, but she can never be the father of my children and I can never be the mother of my children. This fact does not make us unequal it just shows that we have different roles in life. -- Floyd L. Battles, Rome, Ga.