NPR is doing something of a full court press on President Carter's new book. I heard the interview on "Morning Edition," and found the web page afterwards. I was struck by Carter's description of Christian fundamentalism. He told Steve Inskeep that fundamentalists believed they have a direct relationship with God, and that their opinions, therefore, come directly from God. It's a reductio ad absurdum of Protestantism that would be inexplicable to Luther, Calvin, or even Zwingli, and is the anathema of Christian "community." It's an ever narrowing definition: a believer can only become more fully convinced of his or her purity, and therefore ever more exclusive of anyone who doesn't share that opinion. "In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, diversity, in all things charity" stops with the first phrase: essentials are the only thing, and essentials are defined by the community with which you identify, or, more accurately, with the individuals with whom you identify.
Carter signifies this with his description of the conversation with the newly elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention while Carter was in the White House. On his way out, the new Baptist leader tells Carter: "Mr. President, I hope you'll abandon your commitment to humanism, and become a Christian." It is, first, a cowardly act: to drop the bombshell as you leave the room. It is also an arrogant one: the arrogance of someone who thinks he can define "Christianity" and then apply that definition as a yardstick against anyone he chooses.
Carter since no longer affiliates himself with the SBC, for reasons he explains in the interview.
This reductio ad absurdum of fundamentalists in America draws together the disparate threads of hospitality, soteriology, ecclesiology, even the kingdom of heaven and the actions and activities of James Dobson.
And I hope to have some time to explore that issue: soon.
(I know, I know; my "Josh Marshall" moment. But hopefully something will come of it.)
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