Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently interviewed former President Jimmy Carter.
As I noted in my post featuring highlights, this was an extremely fascinating interview.
Here are a few thoughts I had after reading the interview:
1) President Carter has a nuanced view of homosexuality. He’s not welcoming & affirming of gays and lesbians in the same way that the United Church of Christ or the Alliance of Baptists are welcoming & affirming. Carter notes in the interview that Marantha Baptist Church – where he is a deacon and Sunday School teacher – does not ordain homosexuals and does not hold ceremonies to bless same-sex relationships.
Carter told Mohler that he “[has] no objection to civil ceremonies” for same-sex couples. In an interview with Paul Rauschenbush of The Huffington Post, Carter stated, “I personally think it is very fine for gay people to be married in civil ceremonies.”
While Carter supports same-sex civil marriage, his church – as he related to Mohler – does not “practice marriage between gay couples in our church.”
Carter’s position is certainly not uncommon. But it’s a position that doesn’t get much attention as the media attempts to construct a perfect (but false) left-right dichotomy.
2)It’s worth noting that Mohler did not ask President Carter about abortion. Carter brought that up himself. He unequivocally stated, “I have never believed that Jesus Christ would approve abortion.” Carter explains that he felt he had a duty to essentially along and not challenge the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling.
I wish Mohler had asked President Carter – now that he’s long gone from the White House – whether he thinks that abortion rights should be curtailed? Does Carter believe that the Roe ruling should be further reformed or even repealed?
In light of Carter’s comment that he “[doesn't] believe that Jesus would approve of a liberal interpretation of that law,” I wonder what the former President would say? After all, Carter’s view is the view of most moderate Baptists during the early 1970s. Beginning in the late 1960s, Baptists in states such as Texas started calling for legal reforms that would allow for abortion in extremely limited circumstances such as rape, incest, and physical health of the mother.
What many Baptist leaders like former SBC president Jimmy Allen (who Carter was close to) did not want was (more or less) unrestricted abortion rights or “abortion-on-demand.” Southern Baptist conservatives like to trot out the names of several prominent moderate leaders who were in fact supportive of broad abortion rights. However, these viewpoints were still minority ones among moderates just as W.A. Criswell’s initial support for abortion rights was a minority perspective among Southern Baptist conservatives.
Most moderates shared the convictions of President Carter on abortion and abortion rights. The moral critique of these Jimmy Carter Baptists was that they generally remained relatively silent on this issue despite believing – like Carter – that Jesus would not approve of abortion and expansive abortion rights.
3) When questioned on the necessity of personal faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, Carter stated: “I believe it is necessary and I teach that every Sunday in my classes that it is necessary for full salvation and acceptance before God to believe in Jesus Christ.”
Carter adds that he doesn’t “feel constrained” to “condemn to hell” those individuals that have never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel. Mohler and others would argue that this inclusivist perspective is destructive of the Gospel.
Conservatives might take issue with Carter’s theology but I suspect Mohler would love to see the church pews filled with folks like Jimmy Carter – a family man and devoted husband who clearly loves the poor, loves the Bible, loves the local church and lives out his personal faith in Jesus Christ in such a real and authentic way.