(RNS) -- Former President Jimmy Carter, who has met twice in the lastyear with moderate Baptist leaders, called Friday (June 29) for a newpartnership among groups upset with the conservative leadership of theSouthern Baptist Convention. "We should reach out to other traditional, or moderate, Baptists andform a partnership that would greatly strengthen what we do," Cartertold a crowd of about 7,500 gathered for the 10th anniversary meeting ofthe moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. "If there are other Baptists who don't respond, forget them. Forgetthem, and move on as Christians and as Baptists, just following Jesus." Carter, who announced last year that he was no longer associatedwith the Southern Baptist Convention, revealed that he had hosted twomeetings of moderate Baptists at the Carter Center, The AtlantaJournal-Constitution reported. He shared a consensus statement he had drafted on behalf ofparticipants in those meetings, which described the Bible as "inspiredand authoritative," said "all persons are inherently equal before God"and rejected creeds as "instruments of doctrinal accountability." Afuture partnership might focus on collaboration on education andmissions. Officials at the gatherings included representatives of thefellowship, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the Baptist GeneralAssociation of Virginia and other moderate-led state conventions. In an interview before his speech, the former president said of thestatement: "In most cases, the agreements would be contrary to recentpolicies of the Southern Baptist Convention." Carter also said that if he had not been elected U.S. president, "Iwould have accepted being president of the Southern Baptist Convention." Before his decision to part ways with the nation's largestProtestant denomination, Carter held meetings with leaders of thedenomination and the fellowship but "nothing much came of it." In other business, the fellowship upheld its ban on hiring openlygay persons or funding groups that "condone, advocate or affirmhomosexual practice," reported Associated Baptist Press, an independentnews service. By a vote of 701-502, delegates affirmed a policypreviously adopted by the fellowship's Coordinating Council.