In Appreciation of President Jimmy Carter

As many of you will be aware President Jimmy Carter has entered hospice and end of life care, at home with his wife Rosalynn and family. Our thoughts, prayers and thanksgivings are with President Carter and his family.

There will be further comments and articles that follow, for someone who was one of the preeminent advocates for human rights and democracy of his generation. His post-presidency season of service was one of the most outstanding and noteworthy post-presidencies.

George Bullard, a former General Secretary of the North American Baptist Fellowship, has written a moving and profound piece, which I share with you below. Remember President Carter and First Lady Rosalynn in your prayers.

In Christ,
Jeremy Bell
General Secretary, NABF

A Essay from George Bullard — One of His Millions of Friends

A couple of years ago a great friend and ministry colleague died. I went to his funeral. About the same time, I read an article about how we need to connect with our friends before they die to build great memories of them. Not just show up at their funerals.

Former President Jimmy Carter is a person in my life where our paths crossed periodically. He is a friend to millions. I have no right to call him my friend in the traditional sense of that word. Perhaps not even an acquaintance. If you ask him today if he knows George Bullard, I am sure his answer would be “No”.

If you tell him what the circumstances were that we met several times around nine to 12 years ago, he may remember there was a person in that position with the North American Baptist Fellowship. Doubtful he would remember me specifically.

I am one of the millions.

I choose, however, to express my appreciation for him during these last days or weeks or months of his life. I do not want to wait until his death.

My recollection is that I first heard of him around 1970 or so. My father was a Baptist denominational leader in Pennsylvania. One day he told me about a peanut farmer and elected state senator from Georgia who with his wife Rosalind had come with their church group from Plains, GA on a mission trip to Pennsylvania. This Jimmy Carter was running for governor of Georgia.

In this newer state convention area for Baptists, we always took note when any well-known politician, actor, businessperson, or other noteworthy persons showed interest in our ministry. It was a big deal that he was willing to come help do community outreach for a new church.

The first time I shook hands with him was in 1976 when he held a rally in Louisville, KY during the primary season in his quest to become President. I was in seminary and pastor of a church in Louisville. I attended his rally.

I had no other face-to-face contact with him for 32 years. Yet, I did follow his every move. I voted for him in the primary election and twice in the general election for President. I praised him, followed his activities, anguished with him during the tough times of his presidency.

I mostly agreed with his actions as president.

At the same time, while observing him from afar I came to agree with a British organizational management guru. He said of Jimmy Carter a few decades ago that he was the most intelligent US president since Woodrow Wilson. His thinking pattern caused him to be aware of multiple solutions to any issue. He felt he needed to be the one to make the decisions. But he could not quickly and decisively decide. This pattern made him less effective than his intelligence would suggest, or his passion for leadership would indicate.

Post-Presidency and the New Baptist Covenant

I am one of those people who believes Jimmy Carter is the greatest former president in my lifetime. His Christian commitment to service is outstanding. It is in his post-presidency where I have had a few opportunities to interact and partner with him.

The first was being with him at the New Baptist Covenant gathering in Atlanta in 2008. To that point I was not involved in the planning and leadership of these gatherings. However, I was invited to participate in the post-gathering at the Carter Center a couple of months later.

From that point forward I was involved in negotiations about the New Baptist Covenant. In 2009 I became the General Secretary (understand as executive director) of the North American Baptist Fellowship of the Baptist World Alliance.

This role took me to the Carter Center several times over the next few years to meet with President Carter, and a planning and coordination group regarding the subsequent New Baptist Covenant gatherings. It was always delightful to be with Carter.

Jimmy Carter was real! He was personable. He was committed and had strong convictions about how things could and ought to happen.

I had a small part on the program for the second New Baptist Covenant gathering due to my role with Baptists and not because of who I was individually.

Around the time of the first New Baptist Covenant gathering in 2008, Jimmy Allen – a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and moderator of the gathering – raised the question as to whether this gathering represented a “moment” or a “movement”.

If by “movement” the idea that it could turn into a new pan-Baptist movement in North America, the answer was negative. It was a great “moment”. Probably the greatest Baptist gathering since the 1964 Baptist Jubilee Advance of Baptists from various denominations in Atlantic City, NJ.

My father was chairperson of local arrangements for this historic Baptist gathering in 1964. As a 13-year-old I had the opportunity to see much of the behind-the-scenes operations and meet speakers such as Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr.

Books and Habitat for Humanity

I read most – but not all – of the books written by or for Jimmy Carter. During his post-presidency I could see him moving in a more progressive direction as a Baptist. Some transitions I agreed with and some I did not. However, my appreciation for him, his forthrightness, and his Christian commitment always increased.

I particularly loved his involvement in advocating for, supporting, and building houses with Habitat for Humanity.

For me the most meaningful story I heard out of his Habitat experience related to his build in Charlotte, NC. About five years after he participated in that project, the founder of Habitat – Millard Fuller – was speaking in the Sunday morning worship services of Providence Baptist Church in Charlotte.

Between services his host asked what he could do for him. Fuller asked for them to ride out to the neighborhood where Carter’s team had participated five years earlier. Fuller asked his host to stop in front of the house which Carter’s team built.

A little boy was playing in the front yard. Fuller rolled down his window and called to the boy. He said to him, “Do you know who built this house?” The little boy of no more than seven years old said, “My Mama said Jesus built this house.”

The little boy had the right answer. Fuller wanted him to say Jimmy Carter.

Jimmy Carter’s life has been all about doing what he understood Jesus wanted him to do. I am thankful for that life well “

See the original post here on George Bullard’s website, including a video of George reading this essay.

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