Hoping to excite liberal Baptists with leftist political activism and resentment over the “strident” i.e. “conservative” Southern Baptist Convention, Jimmy Carter hosted a New Baptist Covenant II (NBCII) jamboree in Atlanta in November, with satellite meetings across the nation.
Only about 250 people showed up on each of several days of NBCII at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta, according to Associated Baptist Press. “We had hoped for a larger attendance,” admitted one organizer.
The first New Baptist Covenant gathering had attracted over 15,000 in 2008. Organizers of NBCII reportedly hoped more than 30,000 would participate nationwide this time.
My colleague Jeff Walton attended a satellite gathering at a large Washington, D.C. Baptist church, where all of 5 or 6 people sat in a cavernous sanctuary watching Jimmy Carter appear on a giant screen. Apparently a 300 seat Philadelphia church was nearly as empty. There were 9 satellite stations for liberal Baptists to gather and watch the former president, along with Welfare State champion Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund and liberal evangelist Tony Campolo, former spiritual counselor to President Bill Clinton.
Famously prominent at his Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, Carter has for many years condemned the theological and political conservatism of the Southern Baptist Convention. He has even loudly and publicly “resigned” several times from it, even though only congregations and not individuals are members of the Convention.
Although touted as one of America’s first evangelical presidents, Carter’s theology and politics more closely resemble the stances of declining, leftist-dominated Mainline Protestant denominations. Arguing that the relatively robust, 16-million member Southern Baptist Convention should become more like the spiraling Episcopal Church is difficult, of course. But Carter rarely shies from Don Quixote causes.
Speaking at the Atlanta church in an interview format with PBS religion journalist Bob Abernathy, Carter recalled his Carter Center’s admirable work in nearly eradicating the guinea worm parasite in Third World nations. But Carter quickly got political, praising Occupy Wall Street and bemoaning the “division in the country between the rich and powerful” and the less privileged. “The powerful people who control government have to be reminded from the bottom that things need to change,” Carter announced, according to my colleague, whose accounts are here and here. One Carter solution: “I think tax rates ought to be raised for the top 1 percent.”
Carter denounced as “stupid” the Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling against part of the 2002 McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Act, touted liberalized immigration policies, and warned against America’s “self-satisfaction and arrogance.” Carter also boldly reiterated his controversially harsh anti-Israel views, denouncing Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as “racist” and insisting he did not regret accusing Israel of “apartheid” policies against Palestinians. After a prompting question by Abernathy about whether Arabs must accept Israel’s existence, Carter added: “Of course.”
Marian Wright Edelman echoed some of Carter’s class resentment themes more forcefully.“Will the United States be a blip or a beacon in history?” she wondered before the relatively small Baptist audience. “We are eating the seed corn of the future, and we are not leaving opportunities for them [children] and that is why they are there occupying Wall Street – and that is a good thing – they are breaking the silence.”
Across almost 40 years, Wright’s Children’s Defense Fund has famously defended an unrestricted and constantly growing federal Welfare State as a supposed defense for “the children.” Big Government’s 45 year adverse impact on children, including pervasive illegitimacy and dysfunctional urban schools, has never evidently provoked Edelman into reconsidering her endless faith.
“What is a child going to do in this economy if they cannot read or write?” Edelman wondered, not pondering her CDF alliance with teacher unions that help perpetuate failing schools. “We need to send those bounced checks of jobs, quality education, food and early childhood development back to Congress and state capitals and tell them to re-fill our nation’s insufficient bank accounts with transfers from the overflowing coffers of powerful corporations and individuals, from unjust tax breaks and subsidies and pay the long-overdue promissory notes of justice and hope that millions of children are waiting to receive,” Edelman demanded in typical fashion.
That liberal Baptists should align with dwindling numbers of leftist Mainline Protestants in chaplaining the Welfare State was Edelman’s implicit theme. Evangelist Tony Campolo of Eastern University in Philadelphia largely agreed with her. He is a “red-letter Christian” who translates the Gospel into leftist political themes. “If we’re going to stand up for peace in a war-like world, if we’re going to end this desecration of the environment, if we’re going to stand up against racism, sexism and Islamophobia, if we’re going to do these things we’re going to have to gain a new level of commitment,” he implored.
Campolo announced: “Young people are asking: ‘Jesus comes across as a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant and increasingly a right-wing Republican’ – they compare this Jesus to the Jesus of Scripture, and they find a mocking discrepancy between the two.” The remedy for this disconnect apparently is that Jesus instead should be portrayed as a demonstrator at Occupy Wall Street who wants higher taxes, more federal regulation, and less military spending.
This old-time Social Gospel of the Religious Left may appeal to the 87 year old Carter, 76 year old Campolo, and 72 year old Edelman. But the churches who tout it are largely void of “young people” and virtually everybody else. Most Baptists were wise to ignore Carter’s rally for shifting their churches leftward.
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