Jimmy Carter

How I Went From Texas Baptist to LGBTQ Advocate

Image via Kichigin/Shutterstock

Image via /Shutterstock

“I believe Jesus would. I don’t have any verse in scripture. … I believe Jesus would approve gay marriage, but that’s just my own personal belief. I think Jesus would encourage any love affair if it was honest and sincere and was not damaging to anyone else, and I don’t see that gay marriage damages anyone else…” —Jimmy Carter, from his interview with Huffington Post Live

I grew up in Texas as a churchgoing Baptist. I memorized Bible verses as part of my “sword drills,” went to church camp, took part in the clown ministry and even helped in the nursery.

Then I was kicked out at age seventeen for asking too many questions. My youth minister actually threw a Bible at my head and, in a less than nuanced way, invited me to move on, lest I contaminate the minds and hearts of my friends with my doubt.

Some of my questions had to do with their biblical interpretation, which was literal — and their assertion that the texts we were memorizing were the perfect, infallible Word of God, straight from the mind of the Divine to the paper on which it was written.

I had questions.

Jimmy Carter: Jesus Would Approve of Gay Marriage

Adelle M. Banks / RNS

Former President Jimmy Carter. Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

Former President Jimmy Carter said in an interview that he thinks Jesus would approve of gay marriage.

“I think Jesus would encourage any love affair if it was honest and sincere and was not damaging to anyone else, and I don’t see that gay marriage damages anyone else,” Carter said in a HuffPost Live interview with Marc Lamont Hill published July 7.

From the Archives: March 1988

RELIGION AND electoral politics tend to be mutually debasing. Take the apparent exception, Jimmy Carter. His politics were informed by his theological insights: a regard for the poor and despised (he was the first U.S. president to take the Third World seriously); a sense of human limit (he did not take it for granted that Americans have a right to consume a disproportionate share of the world’s goods); and a recognition of the humanity of others, even of enemies (the Soviet Union was not the Evil Empire for him).

The result of this conjunction of theological and political views was a resounding rejection from the electorate, and especially from those who seemed closest to him on the theological spectrum, Southern Baptists. The lesson seems to be that it pays, in presidential politics, not to take your religion seriously. ...
The preference of evangelicals for the religious stance of Ronald Reagan proved that pseudo-religion works best in our political races. President Reagan’s religiosity barely rises above the level of superstition. Michael Deaver ... says that the president consults his horoscope every day, regularly carries five or so lucky charms in his pocket, and is “nuts for religious phenomena.”...

Why would evangelicals and others reject a sincere believer in the gospel, like Carter, for Reagan’s profession of a hodgepodge of make-believe beliefs? The reason is that Reagan brings them a more marketable God. 

Garry Wills was the author of Reagan’s America when this article appeared.

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Man On A Mission

Balmer presents Carter as an icon of progressive evangelicalism, a subculture that was coming into its own in the 1970s as young Christians like Jim Wallis rallied believers for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. These evangelicals traced the roots of their crusade to the abolitionists and other 19th-century moral reformers.

Jimmy Carter's Evangelical Downfall: Reagan, Religion And The 1980 Presidential Election

In a blistering editorial in the January 1978 issue of Sojourners, Jim Wallis castigated the president for failure to attend adequately to the needs of the poor. “The biblical demands for justice and compassion bring the harshest kind of judgment to the system of wealth and power upon which Jimmy Carter has built his presidency,” Wallis wrote. “It is these standards of social righteousness that our evangelical president has set aside during his first year in office.” John F. Alexander of The Other Side, another signatory to the Chicago Declaration in 1973, was almost flippant about the 1980 election. Although he acknowledged the moral rectitude of Carter’s policy on human rights—“we can be reasonably sure that fewer people are being tortured now than if Ford had been elected”—Alexander expressed doubts that an evangelical in the White House made any difference whatsoever. While he applauded Carter’s cancellation of the B-1 bomber, Alexander criticized the president’s approval of the MX missile. “Personally I see little point in not voting,” he concluded, although he suggested that his readers cast their ballots for Donald Duck.

Losing My Religion

RECENT POLLS SUGGEST that America’s vaunted religiosity is slipping, including the percentage of people willing to identify themselves as evangelicals. At the same time, the percentage of avowed secularists has risen. A movement calling itself the “New Atheism”—those adamantly opposed to religion—has attracted a considerable following.

The oracles of this movement—including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens—deny any possibility of the supernatural, assert that religious belief is irrational, and posit that religion has caused untold evil and suffering throughout history. Because of their dogmatism and their refusal to countenance views other than their own, I refer to these people as “secular fundamentalists.”

Hard data may be elusive, but the latest generation of American young people is much less religious than the last, and the growing secularism they represent could be a byproduct of the polarizing effect of the Religious Right. With evangelical fundamentalism being the dominant and most public form of U.S. Christianity over the last generation, young seekers would rather turn away from all religion than adapt to the harsh expression of faith that excludes so many of their peers and often stands against their aspirations for fairness and equality.

Religious fundamentalism has tainted the reputation of Christianity. For many, unbelief has become more palatable than belief, if believing requires an embrace of the distortions that have so characterized U.S. Christianity over the last several decades.

What prompted the emergence of this New Atheism or secular fundamentalism? What historical forces contributed to its rise? The roots of this phenomenon go back more than three decades—to the political mobilization of a different species of fundamentalism that became the movement commonly known as the Religious Right.

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Killing People Is Hard to Do

Moose's Last Photo. Photo provided by LaVonne Neff

Twelve years ago we took our beloved Maltese dog, Moose, to the vet and came home without him. Moose was in the late stages of congestive heart failure, and many times each day he was wheezing and crying out in pain. While my daughter held the little dog, the vet gave him a shot. It was over very quickly.

Why don't we treat death row prisoners at least as well as we treat dogs?

"Secret Drugs, Agonizing Deaths" is the headline on an article in yesterday's New York Times. Back when executioners wielded axes, they tended to wear hoods so people wouldn't recognize them. Nowadays states still conceal executioners' identities — and much more.

Feisty Civil Rights Activist Will Campbell Dies at 88

RNS file photo

Will Campbell died Monday at the age of 88.

The Rev. Will D. Campbell, a Baptist minister and early white civil rights activist, as well as best-selling writer and folksy raconteur, died Monday in Nashville, Tenn. He was 88.

With a fiercely independent streak and sometimes prickly personality, Campbell used his powerful way with words to explore American racism, especially the contradiction inherent in Christian support for segregation across the South.

And he had his own contradictions, as well. A Southern Baptist who drank moonshine with the Catholic nuns he counted as his friends, Campbell was an equal-opportunity critic, castigating liberals as well as conservatives in his writing and preaching and storytelling.

Jimmy Carter vs. the SBC/Driscoll/Victoria’s Secret: A Sea Change?

Victoria's Secret storefront. By Samantha Marx, via Flickr.com

Victoria's Secret storefront. By Samantha Marx, via Flickr.com

Jimmy Carter offered an open letter a few years ago explaining why he divorced himself from the Southern Baptist Convention after six decades as a deacon and Sunday School teacher. Basically, he contended that the SBC continued to legislate gender inequity from the top-down, cherry picking select verses to serve a desired patriarchal end, to which Carter responds:

It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

It’s easy, in the daily course of events, to forget how pervasive such judgments against the equality of women really are, especially as we have examples of powerful women in political office and business. But just as having a black President doesn’t solve racial inequities, neither do a handful of high-profile women indicate there isn’t an ongoing struggle for parity among millions of other women without such power.

Jimmy Carter on the Role of Faith in Egypt/Israel Peace Talks, His Own Life (in and out of the White House)

Jimmy Carter with his grandson in 2009. Image via http://bit.ly/zQs4Q4

Jimmy Carter with his grandson, Hugo Wentzel, 10, in 2009. Photo via Wylio http://bit.ly/zQs4Q4

Jimmy Carter is the 39th president of the United States, founder of the Carter Center and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He has authored many books, the most recent being "Through the Year with Jimmy Carter: 366 Daily Meditations from the 39th President." In the wide-ranging interview that follows on the blog, the Huffington Post's Senior Religion Editor Paul Raushenbush spoke to President Carter by phone about the role faith played in the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, the time of his greatest alienation from God, faith in the White House and his personal daily devotional practice. This post originally appeared on HuffPo.