(RNS) -- Former President Jimmy Carter, who has met twice in the last year with moderate Baptist leaders, called Friday (June 29) for a new partnership among groups upset with the conservative leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention. "We should reach out to other traditional, or moderate, Baptists and form a partnership that would greatly strengthen what we do," Carter told a crowd of about 7,500 gathered for the 10th anniversary meeting of the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. "If there are other Baptists who don't respond, forget them. Forget them, and move on as Christians and as Baptists, just following Jesus." Carter, who announced last year that he was no longer associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, revealed that he had hosted two meetings of moderate Baptists at the Carter Center, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. He shared a consensus statement he had drafted on behalf of participants in those meetings, which described the Bible as "inspired and authoritative," said "all persons are inherently equal before God" and rejected creeds as "instruments of doctrinal accountability." A future partnership might focus on collaboration on education and missions. Officials at the gatherings included representatives of the fellowship, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the Baptist General Association of Virginia and other moderate-led state conventions. In an interview before his speech, the former president said of the
statement: "In most cases, the agreements would be contrary to recent policies of the Southern Baptist Convention." Carter also said that if he had not been elected U.S. president, "I would have accepted being president of the Southern Baptist Convention." Before his decision to part ways with the nation's largest Protestant denomination, Carter held meetings with leaders of the denomination and the fellowship but "nothing much came of it." In other business, the fellowship upheld its ban on hiring openly gay persons or funding groups that "condone, advocate or affirm homosexual practice," reported Associated Baptist Press, an independent news service. By a vote of 701-502, delegates affirmed a policy previously adopted by the fellowship's Coordinating Council.
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