More and more we read about DNA and its accuracy. Can we all agree that the DNA left by Carman Sharp finds him guilty of being 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. 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.
Let’s look at the evidence.
Soon after the beginning of what we former Southern Baptists euphemistically call “the Controversy,” Carman Sharp saw right through to the mean and destructive agenda of political and religious Fundamentalism.
In 1980 he and a couple of other Kentucky men were part of a larger “Gatlinburg Gang,” who met to assess what was already happening within the SBC and what could be done to stop further damage. Carman told me about the golf shirt those fellows had with a bull’s-eye circle and a hole just to the left of the center. I asked Carman to will me that shirt but have yet to see it.
That group would expand. By 1985 a Kentucky group had formed to educate and mobilize pastors and laity to participate in SBC meetings. Carman was an unashamed ring-leader in the Louisville area. By 1990, mainstream Southern Baptists realized our larger denomination was consumed by a political and theological Fundamentalism. It was time to sense if the Spirit had something better for us.
Out of that decade of “Controversy” emerged Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Who would have the courage to identify with something new and small and unproven? Carman Sharp, of course, was in that early group. He served as the first treasurer of the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship. Carman was guilty of being a Baptist by conviction. He knew that being Baptist means something deep in the soul.
In 1983 a new publication called SBC Today formed. Carman was part of a group of area pastors who invited the editor to Louisville. From that early beginning emerged what is now called Baptists Today– the only national and autonomous Baptist news publication. Carman’s DNA proves he was guilty of believing informed Baptist Christians are better equipped to serve others and to serve the Church of Jesus.
In 1983 a group called “Baptist Women in Ministry” formed to provide a network for women called to all forms of ministry. Its first office was housed at nearby Crescent Hill Baptist Church. Carman was a from-day-one supporter of this movement. He realized from Scripture that all persons loved by Jesus can be called to vocational ministry.
Carman would have been very proud to realize that one of his favorites–Dr. Molly Marshall–was recently named president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City–the first woman to be elected president of a Baptist seminary in this country. Carman’s DNA convicts him of believing the claims of the gospel are open to all who respond.
Those of us at Deer Park Baptist Church in the 1980s knew that Carman was focused on the threat of nuclear armament and nuclear proliferation. How many of us would sit on pins and needles wondering just how Carman would bring the need for nuclear disarmament into a simple sermon based on a parable? Or, just how a dig at President Ronald Reagan’s nuclear policies would get worked into that Sunday’s sermon? It was just amazing–and frustrating–how he would succeed – so many times!
One day at our weekly lunch I broached the subject about how Deer Park people just did not need to hear about nuclear disarmament every Sunday. His response was that if you see a train coming down the track you have an obligation to tell people to get off the track.
Baptist Peacemaker was part of that era. He led Deer Park to house the distribution and storage of that often-controversial publication.
Ronald Reagan is now gone. Today we remember Carman Sharp. Yet, the threat of nuclear proliferation remains one of the most crucial and frightening matters our current president and other world leaders struggle with.
Carman’s DNA proves him guilty of believing that every Christian–even those of us in the pews at Deer Park Baptist Church–could be part of making global change.
Carman was about Baptist people using their brains, about respecting people, about making positive change in our world.
Because of the long and deep relationships each of us shared with Carman Sharp, his DNA is now part of us.
Harold Phillips is coordinator of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri. He formerly served at Deer Park Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., working with Carman Sharp, a longtime Baptist peace activist who died March 14.