NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) Former president and former Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter said that while homosexuality is a sin, he sees nothing wrong with a “Christian” homosexual being ordained. Carter made his comments during a 60-minute telephone interview with Baptist Press on Oct. 20.
Carter announced Oct. 19 that he could no longer be associated with the Southern Baptist Convention citing among his reasons the Baptist Faith and Message as adopted in June and its stance on female pastors. Carter said he was convinced to leave the SBC after listening to a taped message by Charles Wade, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Carter discussed a variety of issues surrounding his decision to leave the SBC, including his stances on several controversial issues — homosexuality and abortion.
“If that person [a homosexual] was demonstrating the essence of Christianity, I would not object to the individual being ordained,” Carter said. “Yes, homosexuality is a sin but so is adultery. When somebody doesn’t give 10 percent of their earnings to the church, it is a sin. All of us are sinners every day. And adultery is a more serious sin than homosexuality.”
Carter said the ordination of homosexuals is a decision to be made by individual churches and he doubted his home church, Maranatha Baptist in Plains, Ga., would go out of its way to ordain a homosexual.
“If we did have a homosexual in our church who wanted to be ordained, it would be decided not on sexual preference,” he stressed.
Carter said he does not support legal approval for homosexual marriages but he does support laws that prohibit discrimination against homosexuals.
“Homosexuals have a perfect right to profess to be Christians, accept Christ as Savior, and I wouldn’t have a problem if they worshiped side by side with me,” the former president said. “Jesus never singled out homosexuals to be condemned. When the Southern Baptist Convention started singling out homosexuals as a special form or degree of sinfulness, I didn’t agree with it. Now, that target has shifted to the subjugation of women.”
On the issue of abortion, Carter said he is pro-life. “I have never believed that Christ would approve of abortion,” he said. “When I was governor and president, I took an oath to uphold the Constitution. I had to administer the [abortion] law, but I did everything I possibly could to discourage abortion.”
Following is a transcript of the Carter interview:
BP: In 1993, you and Mrs. Carter publicly pledged to financially support the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship [an organization formed in 1991 in opposition to the SBC]. What is the difference between your 1993 renouncement of the SBC and this latest renouncement?
Carter: Our church (Maranatha) and my membership have always been affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. 100 percent of our Cooperative Program dollars go there. Through the years, I’ve never made any derogatory remarks about the SBC but in the last couple of years, I became increasingly concerned about what was happening with the leadership of our convention. When the meeting took place in Salt Lake City, there were some decisions made concerning women that bothered me. But it wasn’t official enough to cause me to abandon my 65 years in the SBC. The recent meeting in Orlando did cause me some concern. I decided it was time to express my views more forcefully. The changes that have taken place and the establishment of a definition of what is a Southern Baptist and the litmus test that has been applied to elected leaders in the SBC is of great concern.
BP: What convinced you to leave the SBC?
Carter: I decided that I couldn’t publicly be associated with the SBC after listening to Dr. Wade’s tape. When the debate took place in Orlando, I wasn’t there. I haven’t been invited to a Southern Baptist Convention. But those debates concerned me. I’m not a theologian, but when I got Dr. Wade’s tape, it all made sense. At first, I didn’t know what to do. The overriding concern I have is, a belief that has now been adopted no longer permits the flexibility I felt we once had.
BP: Now that you have renounced your ties with the SBC, will you leave your Southern Baptist church?
Carter: No. I will still maintain my membership at Maranatha. I’m a deacon. About a month ago our church voted to send half of our CP money to the CBF. There was some discussion about whether or not to take money away from the SBC CP and just give it to Georgia. We decided not to do that. But I want to be very clear that I am only speaking for myself, not the church.
BP: Will you continue teaching your Sunday school class?
BP: Could you discuss what you meant in your letter about a free religious press?
Carter: I heard through the grape vine that Bill Neal [editor of the Georgia Baptist newsjournal Christian Index) had been ordered by the committee that governs the paper to exclude favorable comments about moderate Baptists including members of the CBF. I am a Georgia Baptist and I pay part of Bill’s salary. And I feel that although I have expressed my approval of the CBF it doesn’t make me an enemy. I’m still a loyal Georgia Baptist. To see a decision like that was a shock to me. It seemed like an additional example of a rigid creed. I hope and pray that Georgia Baptists will not go so far as to accept the new BFM.
BP: In 1993 you mentioned that you would be a spokesman for the CBF. Do you still stand by that statement?
Carter: I don’t represent the CBF. Rosalyn and I have given privately to the CBF. I feel compatible with them. The CBF seems to have a broad enough umbrella of differing beliefs so that I can feel a sense of cooperation and accommodation for each other.
BP: Should the CBF form its own denomination?
Carter: I don’t think they should. I know they are discussing the issue, but I don’t have any interest in organizational dominance. I think we should have a fairly small CBF foreign mission program that could be expanded and I possibly see cooperation between the CBF and the American Baptists.
BP: In 1992, you called then candidate Bill Clinton and Al Gore “fine Southern Baptists.” Do you still maintain that description of President Clinton and Vice President Gore?
Carter: I still think they are both fine Southern Baptists. You have to look at this in terms of forgiveness. You can’t just base it on one sin. I’ve always been loyal to me wife. I believe Al Gore has been faithful to his wife. Bill Clinton, though, has not in some form. If you take that one sin alone, then I would say that Clinton is guiltier than I am. But I would be much more guilty of another sin.
BP: If the moderates were to regain control of the SBC and their supporters repatriated would you return to the denomination?
Carter: I think that’s a hypothetical question. I don’t envision even 50 years from now moderates marshalling enough messengers to do that in a majority way. But if a moderate was elected to the SBC, I would be pleased. I would think there would be a general philosophy that would please me.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: JIMMY CARTER.