On the Sunday after he was formally chosen to be the Democratic party’s candidate for President, Jimmy Carter was back in Plains, Georgia, where he taught an adult Sunday-school class at First Baptist Church. About half of his some eighty listeners were reporters and Secret Service agents. The lesson was on the need for love, justice, and humility.

“We ought to make our own societal structure a better demonstration of what Christ is,” commented Carter—the first Deep South presidential nominee since 1848.

If that can be done from the top down, Southern Baptist Carter may get a chance to wield his influence come November. Some early polls show him beating both President Ford and Ronald Reagan.

Retired Atlanta pastor Martin Luther King, Sr., 76, a Georgia delegate who delivered the benediction at the final Democratic convention session, implied as much in impromptu comments before he prayed. “Surely the Lord is in this place,” declared “Daddy” King. “Surely the Lord has sent Jimmy Carter to come out and bring America back to where it belongs.” Carter, 51, and his wife were at King’s side when he asserted that God was in Madison Square Garden, and both said “Amen.”

The black preacher sounded almost a revival note in helping to bring the convention to an end. He exhorted the Democrats to make real the surface unity evident throughout the proceedings. “If you have an unforgiving heart, get on your knees,” he said.

Misgivings in the liberal wing of the party were partly overcome with Carter’s selection of Senator Walter Mondale of Minnesota as his running mate. Mondale, 48, is the son of a Methodist minister, and he and his family are members of Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church in Washington. The church is affiliated with both the United Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. (Southern). Mondale has attended regularly since joining in 1964 but does not hold office, say church sources.

Mondale’s sponsorship of controversial child-care legislation and his support of camp regulation by the federal government have drawn fire from many conservative church people.

While Mondale’s stands on issues are fairly clear, Carter’s positions appear ambiguous to some evangelical critics. His views on abortion have evoked the most vocal controversy to date. Contrary to many accusations, Carter says he had no input at all on the Democratic platform plank on abortion. That plank opposes a constitutional amendment to limit abortion. Carter says his position is similar, “but I would have worded it differently.” He also states that he personally opposes abortion and “will do everything possible to minimize its need” if he is elected President.

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In a speech for anti-abortion candidate Ellen McCormack, convention delegate James Killilea cited opposition to Carter on the abortion issue by a Catholic writer and by Harold O. J. Brown, a teacher at Trinity seminary in suburban Chicago and a leader in the anti-abortion Christian Action Council. In describing Brown as “an evangelical like [Carter],” he quoted the theologian as saying: “For someone to say that he is morally opposed to abortion and then that he is against doing anything to stop the present flood of abortions is rather like Pontius Pilate’s action in washing his hands at the trial of Jesus.”

One pro-life picket outside the hall carried a sign saying, “Carter is nothing but a 621-month-old fetus.”

Whether Carter will win the support of the many Catholics and a growing number of Protestants who are unhappy with his abortion views remains to be seen. Some 10,000 pro-life people rallied in Central Park on the eve of the convention to register their opposition to the plank on abortion, and a new movement, Democrats for Life, reportedly was organized during the convention. Its members include Governor Richard Kneip of South Dakota.

One of the eight clergymen recruited to pronounce invocations and benedictions at the convention was Robert N. Denting, a Catholic priest from Kansas City slated to give the benediction on nominating night. Only hours before he was to lead in prayer he backed out “as a matter of conscience and principle” because of the abortion position. A local priest, Leo J. Daly, was quietly enlisted to take his place.

There were a number of religion-related sidelights both inside and outside the convention hall.

One of Carter’s seconding speeches was by Atlanta congressman Andrew Young, 44, a United Church of Christ clergyman and former aide to Martin Luther King, Jr. The soft-spoken Young, highly respected in congressional circles, in 1972 became the first Southern black elected to congress in almost a century. His voting record is liberal, and he has been a member of the World Council of Churches Program to Combat Racism. He is known as a devout man of faith, and he identifies personally with evangelical Christianity—enhancing his compatibility with Carter. He has become one of Carter’s closest friends during the campaign, and the former Georgia governor singles him out for more credit than anyone else in his campaign success. If Carter wins the upcoming election, Young will no doubt play a key role in his Administration.

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There were several clergymen and nuns among the delegates, including priest William Graham of Pittsburgh, affectionally referred to by his fellow Democrats as “Father Billy Graham.” None of the clergy delegates, including editor James Wall of Christian Century, felt Carter’s “born-again” faith will be a controversial issue in the campaign; some said it will gain him votes in certain areas. “Jimmy Carter is not a fundamentalist, as some liberals seem to think,” said United Methodist minister Donald Messer, president of Dakotas Wesleyan University, in an interview with correspondent Elliott Wright for Religious News Service. “Jimmy Carter is a social-gospel evangelical, and I expect he will give leadership to the churches on how to relate the Gospel to the world.” (There have been a number of post-convention appeals, including one by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, asking voters, candidates, and the press to refrain from making religion an issue.)

Outside, unseen and unheard by most delegates, assorted groups of demonstrators and evangelists tried to get their messages across with loudspeakers and leaflets. They ranged from gay-liberation advocates, pot endorsers, and promoters of women’s rights to “Moonies” of the Unification Church, Jews wanting a platform plank on behalf of Soviet Jewry, Jews for Jesus, and a loosely knit team of Southern Baptist ministers and lay evangelists who worked the 1972 political conventions and the Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

The 150-member Lamb’s Manhattan Church of the Nazarene sponsored a 100-hour round-the-clock prayer vigil for the nation from a street-corner booth a block from the Garden. A two-hour “Jesus Joy” rally was held on the street corner one night, and hundreds stopped by to listen to music by Children of the Day, a group from Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, California. Songs were interspersed with testimonies by young people and mini-sermons by the church’s pastor, Paul Moore, who sported a red vest and clergy collar for the occasion. The entire sidewalk crowd—even the dozen police officers standing watch nearby—joined in singing “The Hallelujah Chorus” at the close of the meeting. (Moore’s church recently purchased the famed Lamb’s Club in Times Square and sponsors a variety of outreach ministries in it, including theater presentations and what amounts to a Christian supper club.)

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Among the sidewalk witnesses, the Jews for Jesus contingent of about sixty seemed to prompt the most—and sometimes sharpest—response. Eight Jewish youths identified as members of the Anti-Missionary Institute—tried to break up a pre-convention meeting being conducted at Calvary Baptist Church by Jews for Jesus members.

Jews for Jesus leader Moishe Rosen reported that his group was distributing more than 50,000 tracts daily. Among them were two titles that were bound to catch the eye during a political week: “Promises, Promises,” and “Why Things Aren’t Working Out.”

On the Sunday morning before the convention opened, Carter worshipped at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church and heard two guest preachers describe the city’s economic and social ills. A reporter stated that pastor Kenneth L. Folkes of Mount Carmel Baptist Church looked right at Carter as he said, “You must change the picture.”

That same hour, Canon Walter D. Dennis told worshipers at nearby Cathedral of St. John the Divine (Episcopal) they should consider Carter’s religious convictions in determining whether to support him politically. A President’s decisions, he said, “ought to be informed by his religious, ethical presuppositions.”


Some people are wondering if Jimmy Carter’s reputed qualities of faith and honesty might be having an effect on others. Paper strips were placed over the undraped anatomies on the covers of sex magazines at the main newsstand of New York’s Americana Hotel during Carter’s convention stay there. And on the day after the Democratic convention, two CHRISTIANITY TODAY editors were approached by a panhandler on a Washington street. “Can you spare some change,” he asked, “to help me buy a drink?”

Business Is Good

There is still no sign of any let-up in the evangelical book-buying boom that began a few years ago. Perhaps that explains best the spirit of optimism, even euphoria, that prevailed among the 5,317 delegates, exhibitors, and visitors attending the twenty-seventh annual convention of the Christian Booksellers Association in Atlantic City last month. The 2,100 CBA bookstores are expected to gross more than $350 million this year.

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Bibles continue to sell briskly—more than 35 million were sold in North America alone during 1975—and evangelicals continue to land on best-seller lists. Billy Graham’s Angels: God’s Secret Agents (Doubleday), which topped the non-fiction best-seller list last year, is still a leader, with more than 3,000 hard-cover sales each week. According to Doubleday, Pocket Books is anxious to get the book out in paperback but will not be able to do so “until the weekly sales fall below the thousand mark—probably not before next February.” Hard-cover sales stand at 1.4 million copies to date.

Among the authors on hand to help promote their latest works were Hal Lindsey (The Terminal Generation, Revell), Norman Vincent Peale (The Positive Principle Today, Prentice-Hall), and Marabel Morgan (Total Joy, Revell). Lindsey’s books have sold more than 15 million since 1970.

Logos International handed out more than a thousand free copies of its whirlwind best-seller, The Miracle of Jimmy Carter, by journalists Howard Norton and Bob Slosser. More than one million copies were in print by July 31, with sales at 600,000. The volume was released six weeks earlier. Also handed out were hundreds of copies of a book by Carter’s sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton, The Gift of Inner Healing (Word Books). It too is moving briskly.

Perhaps the most significant trend in Christian publishing observable at this year’s CBA convention was a renewed interest in distinctively evangelical books by major secular publishers who a few years ago almost gave up their religion departments. Harper & Row, for example, was there not only selling its wares but actively seeking evangelical books and authors. Another sign of a change of mood among the secular houses: asterisks next to numerous titles in the latest Doubleday catalogue, indicating they are “suitable for evangelicals.”

According to John T. Bass, executive vice-president of CBA, the owners and managers of the more than a thousand bookstores represented among the delegates to the convention tended to be younger, broader, and more tolerant than a decade ago. Not only widely assorted traditional evangelical types but also both Catholic and mainstream Protestant charismatics were present, and without any open ideological conflict.

Whatever the reasons for all the changes, publishers and book-sellers are beaming—all the way to the bank.


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