Former President Jimmy Carter during a book signing at The Washington Post on March 26, 2014 for his new book, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power.” Religion News Service photo by Adelle M. Banks

Former President Jimmy Carter during a book signing at The Washington Post on March 26, 2014, for his new book, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power.” Religion News Service photo by Adelle M. Banks


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

WASHINGTON (RNS) There was Jimmy Carter the president, Jimmy Carter the Habitat home builder and now what you might call Jimmy Carter 3.0: international advocate for women’s rights.

As he nears 90 and the twilight of his public career, scholars are taking yet another look at Carter, a Baptist Sunday school teacher who continues to find ways to use his four years in the Oval Office as a springboard for his faith-fueled passions.

In many ways, Carter appears to be seeking redemption for a presidency that is widely considered a failure, from the energy crisis to the Iranian hostages to his self-diagnosed “crisis of confidence” that overshadowed America in the late 1970s.

But ironically, the Nobel Peace Prize winner is now more free to pursue his global crusade than he ever was as president, says Randall Balmer, author of the new biography, “Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter.”

“Religion always functions best at the margins of society and not in the councils of power, and I think Jimmy Carter’s career illustrates that beautifully,” said Balmer, chair of Dartmouth College’s religion department and a noted scholar of American evangelicals.

“He doesn’t have to worry about getting the approval from Congress on an initiative in Africa on river blindness. He’s not tethered by political considerations any longer.”

Perhaps it’s the age of Obama that has prompted a reassessment in some quarters of the ex-president with the wide toothy grin, when progressive Democrats like Carter and Lyndon Johnson are cast in a softer, more sympathetic light. Or maybe it’s growing nostalgia for a distant era when politics seemed more decent, less dysfunctional. Or maybe it’s because Carter just won’t slow down, drawing praise for his humanitarian work even from his critics.

Whatever it is, the former peanut farmer is getting a second look — and drawing his own share of headlines.

(RNS) Former president Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday school at the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga. RNS file photo by Mike  Kittrell

(RNS) Former President Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday school at the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga. RNS file photo by Mike
Kittrell

Though unsuccessful in securing ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment as president, Carter has emerged as an advocate against the abuse of women across the world. From the chair next to late-night talk show host David Letterman to the halls of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, he can discuss the intricacies of female genital mutilation and the high rates of sexual abuse of women at universities and in the military.

“I have become convinced that the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls, largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare,” Carter wrote in his new book, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power.”

(1989) President Jimmy Carter's official portrait. Religion News Service file photo

(1977) President Jimmy Carter’s official portrait. Religion News Service file photo


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Carter, of course, is no stranger to religious controversies. He famously broke ties with the Southern Baptist Convention after it called for women to submit to their husbands and not be pastors. Men who feel they are superior to women, he said, can find a Bible verse “here or there” that might legitimize their belief.

But he prefers to focus on the example of Jesus.

“It would be a fruitless search to look through the Scriptures and find one single instance where Jesus did not treat women either equal or superior to men,” he said at a recent forum at The Washington Post.

Historian Bill Leonard compared Carter’s faith-based commitment to human rights to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership on civil rights.

“There’s this strong head and heart in him,” Leonard, professor of church history at Wake Forest Divinity School, said of Carter. “He’s very realistic. He’s very direct about what he thinks should be done, but underneath that is what I would call this Baptist progressivism.”

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter joined nearly 1,000 volunteers in Milwaukee, Wis. for the 1989 Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project. Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity International (**NOTE TO EDS/REPORTERS: This photo may only be used with a specific article, please don't post with any other article.)

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter joined nearly 1,000 volunteers in Milwaukee, Wis., for the 1989 Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project. Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity International


This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Timothy George, dean of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, was sorry to see Carter leave the SBC and thought his emphasis on the differing views on women was “out of proportion.” But George, one of the more conservative Baptists who agreed to meet with Carter before he left the SBC, respects the former president for his attempts to bring Baptists together and his efforts to eradicate overlooked tropical diseases such as Guinea worm.

“He’s done so many wonderful things in his humanitarian role, which grows out of his faith,” George said of the projects promoted through the Atlanta-based Carter Center.

Carter also has not given up on his belief that Baptists can bridge racial and theological divides for the common good. Working with the Atlanta-based Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and other Baptist groups, this summer he will highlight “covenants of action,” the next stage of the New Baptist Covenant he began almost a decade ago. So far, there are five pilot interracial projects of Baptists from local congregations from Georgia to Texas working on issues such as predatory lending and literacy.

The people who share Sundays with him at his home church in Plains, Ga., say none of Carter’s current work strays from the faith he has long embraced.

Jimmy Carter appears during the 1986 Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project, which was held in Chicago, where volunteers helped build a four-unit townhouse. Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity International (**NOTE TO EDS/REPORTERS: This photo may only be used with a specific article, please don't post with any other article.)

Former President Jimmy Carter appears during the 1986 Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project, which was held in Chicago, where volunteers helped build a four-unit townhouse. Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity International


This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“What he teaches on Sunday he lives seven days a week,” said Jan Williams, a member of Maranatha Baptist Church, which attracts hundreds of visitors when the former president is in town — and just dozens when he’s not.

Jeremy Shoulta, Carter’s new pastor at Maranatha, likewise sees Carter’s faith in Jesus’ teachings in the scope of his post-presidential life.

“I don’t see someone who has sort of a compartmentalized faith, where sometimes you see it here and then you look and, well, it’s not there,” the pastor said.

This fall in the Dallas area, just days after Carter’s 90th birthday, he and his wife, Rosalynn, intend to lead their 31st “build” with Habitat for Humanity, the Christian nonprofit that constructs homes with people in need of affordable housing.

“He doesn’t lack so much for passion as he does for respite after all these years,” said Balmer. “I think he has redeemed himself and yet he continues to push himself.”

KRE/MG END BANKS

13 Comments

  1. Jimmy Carter continues to be a disaster.

    ” ‘Religion always functions best AT THE MARGINS of society and not in the councils of power, and I think Jimmy Carter’s career illustrates that beautifully,’ said Balmer”

    Ridiculous! Jimmy Carter was the first openly ‘BORN AGAIN’ president! He stuck religion right in our faces every day!

    We have suffered tremendously from this religious nonsense in politics ever since:
    Ronald Reagan, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, Huckabee, G.W. Bush – and all the Bible Thumpers – they owe everything to the blurring of Church and State that this idiotic president started in the 1970s.

    ——

    Carter says, “I have become convinced that the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls, largely caused by a FALSE INTERPRETATION OF CAREFULLY SELECTED religious texts…”

    OH, REALLY???
    Texts like…..
    “And the daughter…if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.” (Leviticus 21:9)

    GOSH MR CARTER, HOW AWFUL THAT THIS WAS MISUNDERSTOOD !
    THOUGH I WONDER WHAT ELSE GOD WAS TALKING ABOUT OTHER THAN …. BURN YOUR DAUGHTER?

    —-
    “ ‘He’s done so many wonderful things in his humanitarian role, which grows out of his faith,” George said.”

    Nonsense!
    FAITH is NOT what he is following – apparently Carter is too stupid to realize it.

    Jimmy Carter behaves like a Humanist because he cares about people. Not religion.
    HE became a humanist and abandoned his religion when he stopped believing that people could be slaves.
    HE became a humanist and abandoned his religion when he stopped being racist.
    HE became a humanist and abandoned his religion when he rejected the Bible’s laws regarding women’s place in society.

    Jimmy Carter is a generally good man who happens to be stupid.
    He hurt the Constitution. He hurt America by preaching Jesus. He hurt Humanism by pretending it has something to do with Jebus.

    Though I cannot argue with all the good Carter has done in diplomacy, overseeing fair voting and building homes for the poor – I THOROUGHLY REJECT the claim that his Humanism is coming from his religion.

    His humanism is coming from the same place that ATHEIST Bill Gates and ATHEIST Warren Buffett get their humanism.
    Humanism comes from being a human being and trying to be DECENT toward others.

    Jesus has nothing to do with that!
    “Bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me as their king and execute them in front of me.” – Jesus (Luke 19:27)

    Jesus is the anti-humanist!

      • @Farley,

        Of Course I understand what Luke 19:27 is
        and you should take no solace that it is the parable of the minas.

        Jesus is instilling fear and he knows it!

        Jesus says “Execute them in front of me” – the primary lesson of the Parable is

        “do WHAT I SAY or you SHOULD BE EXPECT TO BE EXECUTED.”
        It is a parable about absolute obedience.
        To see that Jesus speaks such garbage should break the spell of Christianity it its tracks. But it is stubborn.

        This is an indefensible parable.

  2. I have never been ashamed to say I voted for Carter twice and I have never believed his presidency was as big a failure as Republicans have always claimed. Carter was a compassionate man who attempted to make American policies compassionate as well. His emphasis on human rights as a guide for American foreign policy may have seemed naive to some, but I wish the US was innocent of Guantanamo, waterboarding, and extrajudicial rendition. Carter believed in a government as good as the American people, but maybe he saw America through tinted glasses. Maybe we weren’t that good.

  3. Plaid pants and plastic shoes…
    …inflation…
    …the CB radio fad…
    …disco…
    …gas lines…
    …Jimmy Carter…
    Much of the 70’s is best forgotten.

  4. Jimmy is the best of Presidents! I was in Georgia, I was there for his acceptance speech as Georgia governor. That speech is one of the best southern US governor speeches ever! Our hat is off to Jimmy. God bless you for eternity! nationalchristianassociation.bravehost.com

  5. Hold the Phone

    Atheist Max,

    You’re entitled to your beliefs (or lack of them) and to define your own position and call yourself whatever you want (humanist, atheist, or whatever). You have no business saying that someone else is not motivated by their religious beliefs when they say they are. And your definition of “humanism” seems strangely lacking if it doesn’t allow you to have compassion for people whose beliefs are different than yours. You may disagree with President Carter; your claim that he is “stupid” is neither compassionate or easily defensible.

    • @Hold the Phone,

      Yes. I was out of order.
      You properly said, “You have no business saying that someone else is not motivated by their religious beliefs when they say they are.”

      The issue is not my compassion. President Carter is being incoherent and this should be noticed by anyone who truly cares about compassion.

      It brings me no joy that Hamas and Hezbollah do humanitarian works. I’m sure Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam does lots of good deeds. That doesn’t make the Farrakhan’s religion true or good. Similarly Carter’s religion is the very danger he claims to be against!

      Carter’s embrace of faith is a public embarrassment.
      His application of faith to defend Biblical teaching is stupid – as in stupefying – because in the same breath he rejects Biblical authority regarding its texts.
      Carter says the Bible is ‘misunderstood’ on the matter of women. But frankly he is being lazy.

      Carter should apply more thought to what he is spreading around. A true humanitarian would call the Bible what it deserves to be called; DANGEROUS GARBAGE.

    • @Hold the Phone,

      When President Carter claims Jesus as his motivation I really don’t get it.
      Jesus ENDORSED what Carter claims to be against:

      Raping your neighbor’s wife is a proper way to punish… her husband!
      A Woman who is raped must marry her rapist.
      A beautiful slave woman is a sex gift from God!
      Rape is to be expected as a gift from God for winning a military victory.
      Offering a virgin to be raped is a good way to calm down a crowd of angry men.

      The PROFOUND dishonesty at the heart of this nonsense must be exposed.
      You cannot be a believing Christian and also be a Humanitarian.

      For goodness sake. Just be a Humanitarian. What is wrong with that?
      Carter would certainly be better loved and respected for his hard work!

      THE MINUTE YOU HITCH YOUR WAGON TO JESUS
      YOU HAVE DESTROYED YOUR HUMANITY.

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