Jimmy Carter, Sunday School Teacher
The former president on why he believes Jesus will save everyone, and how his faith complicated--and sustained--his presidency.
BY: Interview by Elizabeth Sams
I think the current Administration has departed from two or three things that I was taught as a child. One is we worship the Prince of Peace, not preemptive war.
|'We worship the Prince of Peace, not preemptive war.'|
And no other President before has ever espoused publicly a policy of going to war unless our own security was directly threatened, not because we just wanted to overthrow a regime or because we thought that that country that we are attacking militarily might some day in the future hurt us. That's one thing from which we have departed.
And I don't think there's any doubt that this Administration has also injected the religious aspect of using say public funds in an unprecedented way. And those funds, quite often, have gone heavily towards Christian churches and they've even gone to Christian churches that only accept as employees or only accept sources of their benevolence who are Christians.
So, I think that, in some ways, that has been a departure. And some of the public statements that have been made from our top officials have also clearly indicated a strong preference for Christianity at the expense perhaps of other faiths. So, that is a departure from historic precedents that had been established by previous Presidents.
Can you picture a good President who had no faith?
Yes, I can. I think there can be a President, a good President, who doesn't have a commitment to a particular faith but would try to exemplify basic moral values and to honor meticulously the historic commitments of our nation through our Constitution and laws, that would promote human rights and justice and peace, equality of treatment, the alleviation of suffering.
So, there could very well be a President who had no faith that could be a good governor of our country.
Whether that person could be elected if he or she professed to be an atheist would be another very serious question. And I doubt that that would be possible, at least in the foreseeable future.
You have said agape love is the highest calling of Christianity but that you felt constrained in exercising it asPresident. Is that right?
The highest call of a Christian, obviously, is agape love or a sacrificial love, love for people who are not lovable, who don't love you back, a love without any thought or expectation that it will be recognized and receive accolades for your being a lovable person.
So, that's a very difficult thing to do. And it's obviously out of the question, the agape love, for a President to exercise because you have to protect your country.
But, at the same time, the other teachings of Christ were very important to me. And although I've tried to separate church and state in the most vivid way, the way my father taught me when I was in his Sunday School class a child, I tried to impose other Christian beliefs, but also, by the way, the beliefs of Islam and Hinduism and Judaism and Buddhism, and that is peace.
I would say particularly with Christians, we worship the Prince of Peace. And we are reminded of that all the way through the teachings of Christ.
And Christ exemplified humility. He exalted people who were servants of others and He emphasized forgiveness of those who hurt you.
In the Sermon on the Mount, He said "Love the ones who hate you" and so forth. And then, we've already discussed agape love. Those are the kind of things that I tried to exemplify without sacrificing the best interests of our people.
Is there one Bible passage that is your favorite?
There's a strange passage in 2 Corinthians that I use every now and then where the Corinthians came to Paul and said, you know, "What is important? What is permanent?" And Paul said, "The things you cannot see." And they were critical about what that meant.
And he said, "The things that people desire and are their main ambitions for money and a beautiful life and public approbation and fame and security and even long life are the things that we spend our existence working to achieve and it's legitimate ambitions. "But," Paul said, "those are insignificant in the eyes of God."
The things that are significant are, to repeat myself, the things you cannot see. And, of course, the things that you cannot see are the principles of Jesus Christ.