Teaching the Bible with President Jimmy Carter
The former President of the United States discusses the Bible and what it's like to teach Sunday school to people of all faiths.
BY: Stephen Russ
We have a lot of people tell me after church is over that they’d never been in church before in their lives and they came just to have a chance to see me and to have a conversation with a former President. So I know that I have many people in my Bible classes that don’t know much about my faith and don’t have any faith of their own. Then as I said we have people who are quite devout Jews who like to discuss elements of the Old Testament with me in a friendly way. I really don’t know what the overwhelming reaction is but a few people tell me that they enjoy the lessons and that they have a new concept of Christianity after I teach. Most of them don’t express a view because they leave after church, but they keep coming back. Like this Sunday we had a very large crowd. The church overflowed, we had people sitting in the choir loft, and had chairs in the aisles and so forth. I’m really enjoying the give and take of a free discussion of the Scriptures.
Speaking of the Old Testament, what do you think a book like Leviticus has to offer to modern readers?
When my wife and I read through the Bible, we don’t dwell on Deuteronomy and Leviticus much. I don’t mean to be critical, but they are an accumulation of texts that used to guide the six hundred or so rules and regulations that permeated Judaism before Christ. Obviously Jesus said He didn’t come to change the law, but He came to explain it. When Jesus came to explain the nature of God in a very revolutionary way He emphasized that it wasn’t just a compliance with all those rules and regulations that made someone acceptable to God, but it’s the way we lived our lives. It was whether we believed in peace and justice and humility, service of others, forgiveness and love, and to mirror the image of God, which is full of grace and forgiveness and love. So I think that has maybe caused the people who choose the Scriptures for the universal lessons not to dwell on Leviticus and Deuteronomy. We spend more time in the Psalms, in the prophecies, and in Genesis and in Exodus in the Old Testament.
People are asking a lot of questions about what the Bible says on science, homosexuality, and things of that nature. What are the questions you think people SHOULD be asking about the Bible?
I think Americans in general, whether Christian or not, should emphasize the character of Christ. We worship Jesus as the Prince of Peace, not war. I don’t think there is any doubt that among all the nations on earth the United States nowadays is more inclined to go to war than about any other country in the world. I go to China quite often, every year at least, and China hasn’t been to war now in thirty five or forty years. When you go to Brazil they haven’t been to war in thirty or thirty five years, Egypt hasn’t been to war in thirty three years, and so forth. The United States is constantly at war. So I think to derive the basic teachings of Christ, which is to try to resolve differences peacefully between two people like a husband and wife, or between nations, is something that we might remind ourselves to address through Biblical Scriptures. That’s just one of the things, obviously there are others like sharing our good lives with those in need, being unselfish, reaching out to the poor and needy, and implementing justice or equality of treatment of people, those sort of things are also important.