Former president Jimmy Carter delivered the closing address at a diverse gathering of Baptists over the weekend, and urged them to come together to help the people of America in their time of need.
During his address Saturday at the Southeast regional gathering of the New Baptist Covenant, Carter said the shared faith in Jesus Christ should be enough reason for Christians to unite and that other divisive issues need to be put aside if they stand in the way of unity.
Disharmony among Christians, he said, "is like a cancer metastasizing in the body of Christ."
"We're saved by the grace of God through our faith in Jesus Christ. That's a fundamental in which I believe. And I think for Christians that's basically adequate," the former president said to the more than 800 attendants gathered at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. "If you believe in that, no matter how you feel about homosexuality or the death penalty or church and state being separated ... we should put those things aside."
The April 25-26 regional gathering was one of a number that grew out of the initial Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, held in Atlanta in January 2008, which brought together nearly 15,000 Baptists representing more than 30 Baptist organizations.
The covenant was launched out of concern that the prevailing image of Christians, particularly Baptists, today is one of divisiveness. Baptists have debated and, in some cases, split over such issues as the role of women in ministry and marriage, abortion, civil rights for gays, and Scripture, among many others.
"They (Baptists overseas) see us (U.S. Baptists) at each other's throats, as argumentative, as struggling for authority and power," Carter said Saturday, according to The Charlotte Observer.
Hoping to overcome any racial, theological, philosophical, geographical or political division, over 30 organizations representing 20 million Baptists (black, white, conservative, moderate, Republican and Democrat) lent their support to the start of the New Baptist Covenant last January.
Since the landmark meeting, event organizers have been holding multiple regional meetings in order to offer greater opportunities for cooperation among Baptist ministries. Regional meetings have so far this year been held in Birmingham, Ala., and Liberty, Mo. Other meetings this year are scheduled for Norman, Okla., and Chicago.
The theme of the recent meeting at Wake Forest was "This is God's Year to Act: Responding to a Society in Crisis." The gathering featured writer Maya Angelou as a speaker and included worship services and workshops offering strategies for churches to respond to pressing social and spiritual needs in a time of economic crisis.
The steering committee for the event included a diverse group of individuals representing more than 40 churches and organizations from three states.