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Former president calls Baylor

Nov. 11, 1997

By Cindy Szelag

Staff Writer for The Baylor Lariat

Former President of the United States Jimmy Carter requested Monday that one of the speakers at a Baylor conference be released from his commitment to attend an event organized by Carter.

Carter called Dr. Douglas Ferdon Jr., associate professor and acting chair of the journalism department, at 9:50 a.m. Monday and told Ferdon he needed the Rev. Dr. Jimmy Allen to attend a convention he was holding in Atlanta this week.

Allen was scheduled to speak at 1 p.m. Thursday at Baylor for the 'Religion and Journalism' conference held by the journalism department. The topic of Allen's speech was to be, 'Is the Gap Closing?'

Allen is the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and former pastor of First Baptist Church in San Antonio. He founded the American Christian Television System, a national cable service, and currently serves as chaplain of the Big Canoe Chapel north of Atlanta, Ga., and president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

'I said, 'President Carter, of course, if you need Jimmy, you can have him,'' Ferdon said.

Allen said he is not actually making a presentation at Carter's meeting, which is more of a gathering of major Baptist authority figures than a convention.

'It's a consultation with Baptist leaders,' Allen said. 'He's called a group together to talk. He was very eager for me to be a part of it.'

Dill said the event is not being publicized, and would not comment further on the nature of the meeting.

'This is a private effort that President Carter has organized,' Dill said.

Carter mentioned to Ferdon that Chancellor and former Baylor President Dr. Herbert H. Reynolds would be attending the same conference.

Reynolds was not available for comment on Monday.

Ferdon said Carter told him he had arranged for John Dart, religion writer for the Los Angeles Times, to replace Allen.

When Carter called him about coming to his meeting, Allen suggested that 'maybe John Dart would be a good person to make the speech [at Baylor], 'Is the Gap Closing?',' Allen said.

'I don't know if the deal has been closed yet, I just know that's what I suggested to Carter,' Allen said.

Dr. John Tisdale, assistant professor in the journalism department, said the deal was not closed as of 5:00 p.m. Monday. Apparently a miscommunication occurred between Carter, Allen and Dart that led Carter to believe that Dart had committed to the engagement when he had not yet.

Tisdale said he called Dart on Monday afternoon to ask him if was going to be speaking or not. Dart was not sure if he could get the time off from work, but said he would call back when he found out.

Allen said he and Dart collaborated in 1993 on a report titled Bridging the Gap: Religion and the News Media, sponsored by the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University.

In the report, Allen and Dart 'examine the relationship between religious institutions and the news media and offer methods of enhancing news coverage of these institutions and their activities.'

According to the About the Author section of the report, Dart has been with the Los Angeles Times since 1967. He was president of the Religion Newswriters Association form 1990 to 1992 and the head of the Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in 1976.

The report also briefly discusses Carter's declaration to the American public while running for president that he was a born-again Christian.

Ferdon said he enjoyed having the opportunity to talk to the former president.

'It's always amazing how close a person in our democracy is to talking to a very prominent person, and there's something very satisfying in having that happen,' Ferdon said.

He also said Carter made a very significant decision by making the phone call himself.

'It's very obvious that President Carter could have pulled rank and just had an assistant call me, but he chose to talk to me personally,' Ferdon said. 'I think it shows the class of the man and sets a good example for the rest of us.'

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