Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg spent his Sunday in rural southwest Georgia, visiting former President Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains.
Formed in 1977 in a church split over desegregation, Maranatha Baptist Church lists affiliations with both the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Southern Baptist Convention.
Carter, a third-generation Southern Baptist and the first United States president to call himself a born-again Christian, publicly renounced his ties with the SBC years ago, citing “increasingly rigid” theological views contrary to his Christian faith.
Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said on Twitter he was “humbled” to meet with the 94-year-old 39th U.S. president.
“He is a true public servant and America is blessed for his continuing leadership,” the candidate tweeted.
According to the Associated Press, the openly gay Buttigieg attended church with his husband, Chasten. At Carter’s invitation, the candidate — an Episcopalian who recently clashed with Vice President Mike Pence over the morality of same-sex marriage — read from the Bible as part of the lesson.
President Carter reportedly told the crowd he knew Buttigieg from working on a Habitat for Humanity project in Indiana where the mayor volunteered. Carter also said Buttigieg isn’t the first of 22 Democrats running for president in 2020 to visit, mentioning that Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota had previously attended his classes.
After church, Buttigieg stayed around for lunch.
“The mayor visited Maranatha Baptist Church for services and a Sunday school session led by Carter before lunch at the Carters’ residence,” Buttigieg communications adviser Lis Smith said, according to the New York Post. “They enjoyed a conversation about topics ranging from faith to the rigors of the campaign trail.”
Carter, who survived a bout with cancer in 2015, curtailed his teaching schedule last year from every Sunday he is in town to typically twice a month. On the Sundays he does not teach, about 25 or 30 members regularly attend. On Sundays when Carter teaches, about 500 or 600 visitors show up. They typically arrive before 5:30 a.m. to secure a seat for class scheduled to begin at 10.
Maranatha Baptist Church subscribes doctrinally to the Baptist Faith and Message statement that was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1963. The SBC revised the document in 2000, adding restrictions on women in the pulpit and removing a phrase from the preamble identifying Jesus Christ as the “sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists.”
Carter, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, disassociated himself from the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000 after 65 years of affiliation that included serving on the Brotherhood Commission, an agency promoting missions work among men and boys dissolved in a denominational restructuring in 1997.
Carter said in a 2009 article the decision became “unavoidable” when denominational leaders began quoting carefully selected Bible verses requiring to women be subservient to their husbands and prohibiting them from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military.
In 2008 Carter convened a nationwide gathering that led to formation of the New Baptist Covenant seeking common ground among Baptists divided over various issues of doctrine and grace. A Southern Baptist leader declined, calling it a “smokescreen leftwing liberal agenda that seeks to deny the greatest need in our world, that being that the lost be shown the way to eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”
In 2015 Carter said he thinks Jesus would approve of same-sex marriage.
Maranatha Baptist Church has had five senior pastors. The most recent, Brandon Patterson — a 2018 graduate of McAfee School of Theology who assumed the pastorate in April 2017 — left in January to become family life pastor at Amelia Christian Church in Clayton, North Carolina.