Wineskins Archive

January 6, 2014

Jimmy Carter’s Living Faith (Nov 96 – Mar 97)

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by Grant Rampy
November, 1996 – March, 1997

Former President Jimmy Carterhas recently been on a nationwide tour promoting his eleventh book, Living Faith. St. Louis-based journalist Grant Rampyinterviewed Carter following a book signing event near St. Louis and prepared this article forWineskins.

25He has negotiated treaties… and taught Sunday School. He has managed a country…and a peanut farm. He has led a nation… and, by his own count, led 140 souls to Christ.

To meet Jimmy Carter is to be faced with a man who is a jumble of seeming contradictions. He is empowered by the gravity of the office he once held, yet never too busy to speak to a stranger. He leans forward in conversation, as willing to listen as to be heard. Maybe more so.

It is with a humility rarely seen in modern discourse—and even more rarely in powerful world leaders—that Carter approached his latest endeavor. Living Faith is one man’s attempt to communicate the importance of personal faith by acknowledging how his faith has guided him through life’s challenges—the challenges of marriage, fatherhood, and the presidency.

“Religious faith has always been at the core of my existence,” Carter writes. “It has been a changing and evolving experience, beginning when I was a child of three, memorizing Bible verses in Sunday school. My faith was first simple and unequivocal; there was no doubt in my mind about the truth of what I learned in church.”

Youthful determination, however, gave way to uncertainty, even skepticism. But these doubts, Carter stressed in our conversation, never eroded his faith. The questioning he did was merely his way of strengthening and testing his faith as it grew.

Today Carter wonders, “How do we bring ourselves to be courageous enough to look at our own lives frankly? To say, ‘What am I? How does my life measure up in the eyes of God? How accurately does my life mirror the example set by Jesus Christ?”

At age 72, our 39th president doesn’t claim to have all the answers. He frets about sounding “preachy.” Not to worry, both in person and on paper, Carter’s tone is not that of an expert but of a fellow student who has learned something new that must be shared.

“I think a lot of folks are searching for something that doesn’t change, that has a permanent value—something that is decent and moral, that can give us a transcendent life.” Carter has clearly found the transcendence others are still seeking.

In this increasingly materialistic world, Carter says people are being fooled into putting too much value on things that can be seen and touched. He quotes the Apostle Paul: “We look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Carter says that he has been sustained by that verse as he has remembered it during the more trying times in his life. “Can we see truth, justice, forgiveness, or love? Those are the truly valuable things about which Jesus taught.”

Now, at a time when many would say he’s earned the right to slow down, Carter is in almost constant motion. News reports often show him in work clothes, helping to build another Habitat for Humanity house. Most Sundays find him back home in Plains, Georgia, teaching a Bible class at the Baptist Church he has attended most of his life. Carter estimates that he has taught 1,300 Bible classes in his lifetime, some in Spanish when he has toured Latin American countries.

It may be easy to assume Carter’s day as a political force has passed; his resurgent popularity has, after all, been due more to his work outside rather than inside politics. But Carter says he still has some things he hopes Washington will hear.

“Americans are disillusioned with the political environment and government, with the prevalence of negative advertising and constant squabbles,” he says. “Things are much worse now, there’s no doubt about that.”

Carter says it’s high time for political reform. “Look at the negative campaigning. When I ran against incumbent President Gerald Ford or when Governor Ronald Reagan ran against me, we would never have dreamed of referring to each other as anything other than ‘my distinguished opponent.’ And, if I had tried to tear down their character by making allegations against them, it would have been politically suicidal.”

Returning to an earlier theme, Carter says that Americans are known around the world for addressing issues like peace, justice, human rights, and the alleviation of suffering. They are issues the former president says people of faith aren’t doing enough to either combat or promote.

“Politicians are far more aggressive and effective than average church members who never really get to know a poor person. They never go to the homes of the poor, or have a cup of coffee with them, or learn the names of their kids, or invite them to their homes.” Politicians, he says, still have to do those things because the vote-getting process demands it.

Carter does believe that Christians are changing their attitude and behavior. They are seizing opportunities to pick up where government can’t or won’t. “I think there is a genuine effort, and not just on the part of individuals, to do something that’s transcendent, inspirational, gratifying, worthy, and unselfish. I believe I see evidence that groups of believers also want to do something that is good and decent. Overall, I think the trend is good.”

Good and decent: two words that come to mind for many of us when we hear Jimmy Carter’s name. But this former president, governor, and farmer is quick to remind admirers that he has faced very real disappointments, embarrassments, and tragedies—and survived—thanks to his living faith.Wineskins Magazine

Grant Rampy

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