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

 

Continued from page 4

Returning to Ephesians, what are one or two of its key lessons that might help denominations currently struggling with internal strife?

Well, we saw early in the Christian church, when Paul was, and Peter and others were just getting started, that their letters to those churches were obsessed with the divisions that existed then, whether a person should have to be circumcised before becoming a Christian--become a Jew first--or whether they should eat the meat dedicated to idols and that sort of thing.



And they said, "Forget about it. They were superficial things. There's just one basic belief we have to have and that will bind us together."



I would say that modern day Christians are more divided than they were in those early Christian church days. The Baptists are divided, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Episcopalians from the Anglicans, the Catholics are divided from one another and so forth, maybe even more deeply before.



And it saps away, saps away at the vitality of us to expand God's kingdom through Christ in a very serious way. And Paul said that we should forget about hating each other because of gays or abortions or whether women can be pastors and things of that kind, although they might be very important to us - as eating the meat of idols was important 2,000 years ago.



What Paul said to the Corinthians, to the Ephesians, and I'd say more vividly to the Galatians, is that we should just remember one thing and that is that we're saved by the grace of God through our faith in Jesus Christ.



''Paul said that we should forget about hating each other because of gays or abortions or whether women can be pastors...'

If we can accept that, we can live together in harmony and peace and Christian love, and work in the name of Christ for other people around the world in harmony.



And I know from experience the intensity of feeling about women leadership. Our pastor's wife in our little tiny church is also a pastor. She's an ordained minister. My wife is an ordained deacon. So, I feel like women are on an equal basis with men.



Paul said to the Galatians, "There is no distinction between Jews or Greeks. There is no distinction between slaves or masters. There is no distinction between men and women," very clearly.



There are other people who have different opinions on other matters that I discussed to you about gays and abortions. We don't have to give up our beliefs. But, we should have those as a very secondary thing to our common belief that we are saved by the grace of God through faith in Christ.



What is God proudest of you about and what's He most disappointed about?

Well, I think the only thing that I would say in a self admiration basis is that I have striven to learn about myself and to try, as best I could, to apply the principles of Christianity in my life.



In fact, Paul Tillich, a great theologian, said that religion is the search for the truth about our relationship to God and our fellow human beings. Religion is a search. So, I've searched.



So, I think, in that way, I would be satisfied with myself. But, of course, the downside is that I've failed in so many ways, you know, to exemplify the humility of Christ and the self sacrifice of Christ and His total dedication to the service of peace and justice and the alleviation of suffering of others.



So, all too often, I've been inclined to encapsulate myself in a cocoon that encompasses people like me, that look like me and speak my language and dress like me and sing the same songs and worship in the same way, to the exclusion of those who are exiled and poverty stricken and forgotten and live in a remote country. So, I've failed in that way.



At least, on rare occasions, I'm forced to reconcile my failure. So, in some ways, I've done well. In some ways, I haven't.



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