After months of dissension and racial politics in President Carter's hometown church, a second Baptist congregation is being formed in Plains, Ga.
Some 50 former members of the present church, Plains Baptist, have split off to form the Bottsford Baptist Mission. Hugh Carter, the President's cousin and one of the leaders of the new faction, says the group's new church "will be constituted soon."
The Rev. Fred Collins, a former pastor of Plains Baptist Church now serving as interim pastor in a nearby Camilla, Ga., Baptist church, will become pastor and plans to preach his first sermon June 26.
Leaders of the new church are strong supporters of the Rev. Bruce Edwards, a friend of the President, who resigned as pastor of the Plains Baptist Church in February. His supporters claimed his resignation was forced because, of his opposition to a church policy barring blacks from membership.
Several supporters of the new church said the racial aspect of the rift, which received worldwide attention, had little to do with their forming a new church. "We have a basic gripe with the power structure that runs Plains Baptist," said one, who asked for anonymity, noting that Plains is a small town. "It wasn't so much that Bruce was fired but the way they railroaded that through and never let the membership have a say."
In a February conference, ostensibly called to rule on paying a $300 bill, Edwards' critics called for him to resign and pro-Edwards forces charged that the meeting was "staked."
The Plains Baptist rift began last fall after a black minister from nearby Albany, Ga., tried to integrate the church just before Carter was elected President. The congregation invoked a 1965 resolution barring blacks to keep him from the church.
Carter and Edwards opposed that action, and after Carter was elected President, he returned to Plains and helped overturn the 1965 ban on blacks. He also vigorously opposed efforts to oust Edwards.
White House press secretary Jody Powell said yesterday that the President was aware of the new split in the church and that the President commented on "what a tragic thing it was."
The President expressed no opinion about which church he would attend if he should be in Plains on a Sunday during the next 3 1/2 years.
Carter joined the First Baptist Church of Washington when he moved into the White House and once commented that "when you move your cookstove, you move your church membership, too."
The President's mother, Miss Lillian, said, "I don't want to be in any split-up church. I've been going to the old church for 52 years but I'm definitely not going to it the way it is - and I'm not going to join the new one either right now. I'll have a long talk with Jimmy before I do anything."
Plains Mayor A. L. Blanton, who says he will stay with the old church, said that some families in the hamlet of 683 were split, with some members remaining and some joining the new. One Plains resident who is not in conflict over the split is the President's brother Billy. He does not attend church.