President Carter yesterday told a gathering of warmly responsive fellow Baptists that he has "never detected nor experienced any conflict between God's will and my political duty. it's obvious that if I violate one, I violate the other."
Stopping here on his way to Panama for treaty ceremonies, the president spoke to the National Conference of (Southern) Baptist Men. He linked the moral and spiritual dimensions of personal life to the future of the nation.
"A nation without morality will soon lose its influence around the world," Carter said.
While affirming the need for the Consititution's guarantees of separatiion of church and state, the president asserted his belief in a strong religious base for national life.
"The great outward journey . . . of our nation is based on an inward journey where peace is derived from an inner strength of an awareness of the will of God and the willingness to carry this out. We cannot succeed without this," he declared.
Several minutes into his address at the Omni sports coliseum, a small group unfurled a banner over the edge of a far balcony reading, in part, "Down with U.S. and Soviet war moves," and began a desultory chant: "From Africa and Panama, U.S. Out."
Carter continued his remarks, ignoring the interruption, and the demonstrators were quietly escorted outside where, joined by a small group of young people identifying themselves as anti-Shah Iranians, they resumed their demonstration later as the presidential motorcade left the coliseum.
yesterday's gathering was sponsored by the Southern Baptist lay-men's organization, the Brotherhood Commission, in which Carter, was an active member before he became the president.
The 16,000-seat coliseum was only a little more than half-full even though church leaders had opened the free session to the public when they found few takers earlier in the week for tickets to a $12.50 breakfast held in conjunction with the president's appearance.
The president, who was accompanied by his wife, appeared to be surveying the ranks of empty seats during the singing of a men's chorus prior to his address.
Carter noted that he was on his way to Panama to exchange documents on the Panama Canal which, he acknowledged, "has been a difficult issue, but our nation has spoken. We have shown we can be strong, that we can be generous . . . that we treat other people as equals.
While America is strong, he said, this nation "can no longer depend on our military force alone for strength" as was the case when America had nuclear dominance in the world, he said.
In his parallels between national and personal morality, the president reminded his audience of southerners that "a century ago your ancestors and mine were at the forefront of the protection of slavery. A decade ago, you and I were not in the forefront of those dedicated to the elimination of segregation and racism." On this issue, he said, "we were too timid."
He praised the Southern Baptist Convention for its "absolutely beautiful resolution on human rights" that the body adopted Wednesday.
He cited the beliefs of theologian Reinhold Niebur on the relationship of personal to social morality. "A person should have as a goal . . . love," he said, "but the most you can expect of a society is civil justice.