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Jimmy Carter lauds Baptist leaders for signing declaration of cooperation

ATLANTA (BP)-Prompted by former President Jimmy Carter and following two meetings at The Carter Center in Atlanta, more than two dozen Baptist leaders have signed a declaration of cooperation regarding racial reconciliation, religious persecution and treating each other with mutual respect.
A diverse group, including leaders from the Southern Baptist Convention, American Baptist Churches, Baptist World Alliance and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the signatories met in November of last year and again in February, Carter said in a news release March 30. Twenty-two leaders met for the first meeting and eight were at the second meeting, Carter said.
The purpose of the meetings was to discuss differences among Baptists on historical, theological, philosophical and organizational issues, the news release said.
“Although we tried to avoid categories, I would say that most of the first group would call themselves moderates and the second group, conservatives. Despite the frankness of our exchanges, they were all positive in nature, with never a word of criticism of anyone not present. Among many suggestions made for common efforts, two seemed to be practical and most likely to have broad support: to advocate racial reconciliation and to oppose religious persecution,” Carter said.
“Based on the agreement of the importance of these two issues, I drafted a statement and submitted it to the participants for their suggestions and ultimate approval. We attempted to make it simple and clear, and to encapsulate what we considered to be a consensus of the two meetings,” Carter said. “We call on other Baptists to join us in accomplishing the goals set out in this declaration and in adopting the same attitude of forgiveness, Christian love and a willingness to treat each other with respect. My hope is that it will be possible in the future to arrange common efforts to work together, perhaps on the issue of racial reconciliation.”
Carter told Baptist Press that as a deacon and Sunday school teacher, he felt there was a lack of understanding and communication among Baptist leaders. After talking to a few friends, he sought to explore ideas to find common ground on three major issues. He said he was extremely pleased with the percentage of leaders who signed the declaration even though some of those involved don’t sign statements as a matter of principle and some wanted to make last-minute changes to the text.
Although no follow-up meetings are planned for the group, Carter said he is hopeful some small working groups could be formed to seek ways to implement the areas of cooperation.
SBC leaders identified as signing the declaration: Tom Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla., and president of the SBC; Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee; Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; James T. Draper Jr., president of the Sunday School Board; and Dellanna W. O’Brien, executive director of the Woman’s Missionary Union, SBC. In addition to Chapman and Draper, two other former Southern Baptist Convention presidents signed the declaration: Jim Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla., and Jimmy Allen, Big Canoe, Ga.
Also signing the document: David Dockery, president of Union University, Jackson, Tenn.; Timothy George, dean of the Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, Birmingham, Ala.; Mark Corts, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Reginald M. McDonough, executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia; Omar Pachecano, president of the Hispanic Baptist Theological Seminary, San Antonio, Texas; Charles R. Wade, pastor of First Baptist Church, Arlington, Texas, and past president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Officials of American Baptist Churches who signed the declaration included Elaine Smith, president, and Daniel W. Weiss, general secretary, of the American Baptist Churches in the USA.
Denton Lotz, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, signed the declaration. Additional signers: James Dunn, executive director, Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs; Lawrence Edward Carter Sr., Morehouse College, Atlanta; Kirby Godsey, president, Mercer University, Macon, Ga.; Bill Leonard, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Deen Day Smith, Atlanta.
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship officials who signed the declaration included Daniel Vestal, coordinator, and Patricia Ayres, former moderator. President Carter’s pastor, Dan Ariail of Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, Ga., also signed the declaration.
The preamble and declaration reads: “Acknowledging that there are unresolved issues among us, the signatories to this declaration wish to overcome differences that may impede our mission, which is to bring about a spiritual awakening in our nation and around the world.
Therefore, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior:
We call all believers to a common prayer effort in a spirit of Christian love. We will pray for one another and adhere to Paul’s beautiful admonition, ‘Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.’ (Eph. 4:32)
In response to the love of God that has been implanted in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, we will treat each other with mutual respect as brothers and sisters in Christ. We will demonstrate this commitment in our personal devotions and public acts.
We will reach out to all of our neighbors in a spirit of racial reconciliation. We call on every Baptist church to form a partnership with a church of a different culture or ethnic group.
We covenant to exert our maximum efforts to end religious persecution in all nations and to encourage unfettered religious liberty for all peoples.
We will seek other ways to cooperate to achieve common goals, without breaching our Baptist polity or theological integrity, in order that people may come to know Christ as Savior, and so that God may be glorified in ever increasing measure.”
Carter, a peanut farmer from Plains, Ga., has spent much of his post-presidential years helping countries in conflict resolution. He was president of the United States from 1976 to 1980.

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  • Herb Hollinger