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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (RNS) Former President Jimmy Carter stepped into the pulpit of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on Saturday (Jan. 31) and spoke to a standing-room-only crowd of about 1,200 people who filled the balcony and lined the walls.
“There is no way for us to ignore Jesus’ emphasis on the poor, the brokenhearted,” Carter told the Southeast regional meeting of the New Baptist Covenant, which he helped found last year with an interracial, interdenominational gathering that drew 15,000 in Atlanta.
The meetings have emphasized racial reconciliation and cooperation on social issues, especially among groups of black and white Baptists.
“I have found this evolution of the New Baptist Covenant to be the highlight of my religious life,” Carter said.
He spoke at a worship service that was followed by workshops on poverty and racism. He recalled a time when racial prejudice was rampant in Baptist churches, and theologians defended separate worship.
“The Baptist church was a stalwart defender of segregation,” he said. “It was ingrained in our conscience.”
Carter said the meeting will help churches work better together. “I would like to see a complete breakdown in separation of people.”
He encouraged Baptists of different races to share worship. “I hope in the future the barriers will be broken down.”
“The people of God are not going to be dragged kicking and screaming,” said the Rev. Gary Furr, pastor of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church and a chairman of the event. “We want to lead the way.”
Saturday’s conference was the first of several regional meetings planned to follow up on last year’s New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta.
“We don’t know whether we have a meeting or a movement,” said the Rev. Jimmy Allen, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and co-organizer of the New Baptist Covenant. “What we’re after is a movement.”
Greg Garrison
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service.All rights reserved.No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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