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Former president receives award with warnings about U.S. foreign policycomment (0)

January 2, 2003

Former President Jimmy Carter, the second U.S. Baptist to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, accepted the award Dec. 10 to the cheers of international Baptists and with a warning about U.S. foreign policy.

Carter received the honor in Oslo, Norway, from a five-member Norwegian committee that awards the prize. Committee members said the award was given in recognition of Carter’s effort to broker the 1978 Camp David Accords, which ended hostilities between Israel and Egypt, as well as his work on issues of human rights, poverty and justice in the United States and abroad since leaving the presidency in 1981.

Another Baptist from Georgia — Martin Luther King Jr. — won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his efforts to end legalized segregation in the South through nonviolent means. In his acceptance speech, Carter cited his faith to describe his principles of nonviolence.

“The unchanging principles of life predate modern times. I worship Jesus Christ, whom we Christians consider to be the Prince of Peace. As a Jew, He taught us to cross religious boundaries, in service and in love. He repeatedly reached out and embraced Roman conquerors, other Gentiles and even the more despised Samaritans,” Carter said.

Warning against war

In comments that many observers viewed as veiled warnings against the United States entering into a “pre-emptive” war against Iraq, Carter said that all war is “evil,” even when it is necessary.

“In order for us human beings to commit ourselves personally to the inhumanity of war, we find it necessary first to dehumanize our opponents, which is in itself a violation of the beliefs of all religions,” Carter said. “Once we characterize our adversaries as beyond the scope of God’s mercy and grace, their lives lose all value.”

While not directly criticizing the Bush administration, Carter voiced support of several foreign-policy objectives — such as international treaties on global warming and the new International Criminal Court — that are in direct opposition to Bush policies.

Several Baptist leaders in other countries sent congratulations for Carter to the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), a Virginia-based umbrella group for Baptist bodies around the globe. “All of them mentioned his strong Christian witness and how it contributed to their witness overseas in a minority setting where Baptists are often unknown or suffering persecution,” reported BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz.

Back home, however, Carter’s award received little or no attention from current Southern Baptists.

Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was con­tacted for comment but did not respond by press time.

Carter, a member of Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Ga., was a longtime Southern Baptist but now identifies primarily with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a splinter group of the Southern Baptist Convention.

James Lauder, interim director of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, a peace advocacy organization that unites various Baptist groups, praised the Nobel for Carter. “He’s clearly the most visible Baptist involved in global peacemaking,” Lauder said.

“His comment in his speech that war is always evil is something that ... everyone needs to be reminded of at this time that our country is thinking of going to war again,” Lauder continued.

“I also hope that it will be an opportunity in encouraging more Baptists to become involved in reducing the amount of conflict in our world and working for peace and justice.”

William Neal, editor of The Christian Index, the oldest Baptist newspaper in the country, also praised Carter. “The Sunday School teacher from Plains is greatly deserving of this honor in light of his many efforts over a long period of time to promote peace throughout the world, Neal wrote when the award was announced in October. “It is refreshing to see the secular media talk about how Christianity has greatly influenced Carter’s position as a peacemaker.”

Meanwhile, moderate Baptist ethicist Robert Parham called the lack of attention from Southern Baptist leaders to Carter’s accomplishment a “shameful but expected failure.”

Parham, executive director of the Nashville-based Baptist Center for Ethics (BCE), drew a parallel between the silence of conservative SBC leaders about Carter’s accomplishment and the SBC’s silence in 1964 about King’s award.

“Carter is a prophet without honor among the Southern Baptist spiritual and genetic offspring of those who refused to honor another Baptist Nobel Peace laureate,” Parham wrote in a column for BCE’s online publication.

Parham said leaders were silent in both cases because both Carter and King “took Jesus too literally” in His teachings about justice and peace issues. “Both men shared family secrets about Baptists in the United States,” Parham said. King spoke about the racism that pervaded Southern Baptist churches in the 1960s, he said, and Carter spoke about the disharmony that has rocked the SBC for more than 20 years.

Carter said he will donate the $1 million award that accompanies the Nobel Peace Prize to the Carter Center, an Atlanta-based charity he founded that works to alleviate poverty and advance human rights and democracy around the world.                   


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