When a former president talks, we journalists listen.
That's part of why Jimmy Carter still makes headlines 35 years after he left the Oval Office. The other part is, of course, how active he remains. The Atlantic wrote in 2012 about "The Record-Setting Ex-Presidency of Jimmy Carter."
Former President Jimmy Carter, who has long put religion and racial reconciliation at the center of his life, is on a mission to heal a racial divide among Baptists and help the country soothe rifts that he believes are getting worse.
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Carter spoke of a resurgence of open racism, saying, “I don’t feel good, except for one thing: I think the country has been reawakened the last two or three years to the fact that we haven’t resolved the race issue adequately.”
He said that Republican animosity toward President Obama had “a heavy racial overtone” and that Donald J. Trump’s surprisingly successful campaign for president had “tapped a waiting reservoir there of inherent racism.”
Mr. Carter conducted telephone interviews to call attention to a summit meeting he plans to hold in Atlanta this fall to bring together white, black, Hispanic and Asian Baptists to work on issues of race and social inequality. Mr. Carter began the effort, called the New Baptist Covenant, in 2007, but it has taken root in only a few cities. The initiative is expanding to enlist Baptist congregations across the country to unite across racial lines.
Later in the Times story, the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, enters the discussion:
He pointed out that the evangelicals in the Southern Baptist Convention had aligned themselves with the Republican Party and organized the Moral Majority, a conservative Christian political group, only in the late 1970s, while he was president. Mr. Carter announced that he was leaving the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000, after the denomination solidified its turn to the right and declared that it would not accept women as pastors.
But what's missing from the story? That would be Southern Baptists.
A Southern Baptist who shared the Times link with GetReligion complained:
Absolutely no effort to report racial reconciliation efforts by Southern Baptists, including the current SBC president, who has made this a central concern of his tenure the last two years.
Yes, this is a daily news story (slightly more than 800 words), not an in-depth takeout with room for a whole lot of context on Southern Baptist history and racial strides. But I understand the reader's concern about no quotes at all from any Southern Baptist leaders.
The Southern Baptist Convention, after all, elected its first black president just a few years ago.
And top Southern Baptists such as Albert Mohler, Russell Moore and Ronnie Floyd have spoken out against racism. At the same time, some have joined the #NeverTrump movement.
Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., called attention to the issue last year after a white gunman killed nine people at a Wednesday night Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.:
Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has clashed publicly with Trump. Moore recently wrote an op-ed about the need for churches to reject racism. The piece was published in the Times, so maybe editors thought readers would remember?:
Floyd, the Southern Baptist Convention president, plans a "National Conversation on Racial Unity in America" at the denomination's annual meeting in St. Louis next month:
To be sure, the Times' interview with Carter tells part of the story on Baptists and racial unity efforts.
But, it seems, there's a bigger story that could be told.
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Laurie Goodstein, the Times' veteran religion writer, responded to the above post on Twitter. I wanted to share her tweets with GetReligion readers:
I don't necessarily agree that an interview published in the Sunday Review section four months ago negates the need for a Southern Baptist voice in this week's news story. But I certainly appreciate and respect Goodstein's perspective and her excellent work on the Godbeat for many years.
Daily journalism on such a complicated subject as religion is far from easy, and Goodstein remains one of the best at her craft.