Longtime Baptist peace activist Carman Sharp died Monday at a nursing home in Louisville, Ky. He was 87.
As pastor of Louisville’s Deer Park Baptist Church from 1961 to 1984, Sharp was active in social causes in the community. He marched for open housing legislation in the 1960s. In 1970 he was instrumental in starting Highlands Community Ministries, an ecumenical group formed primarily to help neighborhood residents needing food, clothing and shelter.
In 1979 he was co-convener of the first Southern Baptist Convocation on Peacemaking and the Nuclear Arms Race, along with seminary professor Glenn Stassen and Robert Parham, then a seminary student and now executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
During a planning session for the meeting, Parham recalled, several pastors were opposed to using the term peacemaking in the conference title, and the meeting ended without resolution. Parham told Sharp he was disappointed by the disagreement, and Sharp replied, “Well it’s going to be at Deer Park Baptist Church, and I’m the pastor there, and it’s going to be called peacemaking.”
Parham said the incident illustrated Sharp’s “toughness” in taking on issues. “He wasn’t afraid to use a controversial word,” Parham said. “He knew what the right thing was, and he did it.”
In 1980 the church began publishing The Baptist Peacemaker, a tabloid with news and commentary on arms control and peace issues.
In 1984, Deer Park was host for a meeting launching the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, started by members of the American Baptist Peace Fellowship, which formed in 1940, and staff and readers of the Baptist Peacemaker. Today the BPFNA has a board of directors with members affiliated with 12 different Baptist conventions and five racial/ethnic groups though no formal connection to any denomination.
He was “a peacemaker, even at a time when peacemaking wasn’t all that popular,” former Edenside Christian Church pastor Robert Kirkman said in a 1997 Louisville Courier-Journal article marking Sharp’s 80th birthday.
Sharp’s church was also ahead of its time regarding women in ministry, ordaining its first women deacons in the 1970s.
His church became known for what Sharp called “all of those things in the liberal spectrum” of the Southern Baptist Convention, according to the Louisville newspaper. But “all Baptists are conservative,” he said.
He was among leaders who spoke out against efforts by fundamentalists to win control of the SBC in the 1980s and was involved in starting the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1991.
Harold Phillips, coordinator of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri, who at one time worked as a member of Sharp’s staff, remembered him as a “Baptist in the very best sense of the word.”
“He knew that being Baptist meant you ought to use your brain and not be fearful of it,” Phillips said. “His faith was strong enough that he let the words of Holy Scripture and the Holy Spirit lead him to ever fresher and deeper understandings of how to follow Jesus.”
“I’m real saddened by his death,” Parham said. “It’s a real loss.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.