Jimmy Carter and the Great Lost Southern Baptist Tradition of Freedom

So the 39th President of the United States had this to say in an interview at HuffPost (per a summary from Mediaite‘s Alex Griswold), when asked about same-sex marriage:

I believe that Jesus would approve of gay marriage, but I’m not- that’s just my own personal belief,” [Carter] concluded. “I think Jesus would approve of any love affair that was honest and sincere, and was not damaging to anyone else. And I don’t think that gay marriage damages anyone else.”

In feeling free to express his opinion about Jesus’ attitude towards a topic on which the Bible is ambivalent and mostly silent, Jimmy Carter is a throwback to the kind of Southern Baptist tradition I grew up in, where there were no denominational litmus tests on cultural and political issues and Baptists in Georgia and Texas were notably “liberal”–but not authoritarian about it.

Carter, of course, felt constrained to break his own lifelong connection with the Southern Baptist Convention in 2009, over its allegedly conservative but actually radical decision to bar women from serving as pastors or deacons. He continues to keep faith with a Baptist tradition that is far older than the culture-war commitments that a secular-minded and politically-focused SBC “conservative” ascendancy began imposing during the 1980s, when a lot a other bad things were happening to American Christianity.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.