Court Evangelicals and “Secular Hedonism” in the Oval Office

Court evangelical dinner

Bill Leonard, the southern Baptist church historian, reflects on evangelicals in the White House and the current state of evangelical politics.  Here is a taste of his piece at Baptist News Global titled “Birthrights and Bibles“:

In Living Faith (1996) former President Jimmy Carter recalls this White House encounter: “A high official of the Southern Baptist Convention [SBC] came into the Oval Office to visit me when I was president. As he and his wife were leaving, he said, ‘We are praying, Mr. President, that you will abandon secular humanism as your religion.’ This was a shock to me. I didn’t know what he meant. I am still not sure.” Carter, who taught Sunday school at Washington’s First Baptist Church while president, also remembers that in his 1976 run for the White House, “the evangelist Jerry Falwell condemned me because I ‘claimed’ to be a Christian.”

Some four decades later certain conservative Christian leaders, including Jerry Falwell Jr. and J.D. Greear, president of the SBC, paid another visit to the White House for a “state dinner” hosted by Donald Trump, a president whose politics they strongly support, but whose life of secular hedonism they seem willing to overlook. Indeed, some 100 of the ministers in attendance signed a Bible that they presented to the president, with an inscription that reads: “History will record the greatness that you have brought for generations.” (Greear later released a statement defending his decision to attend the dinner, reaffirming his desire to depoliticize the SBC, and noting that he did not sign the Bible.)

Read the entire piece here.

“It just never had been my ambition to be rich”

Plains

Check out Kevin Sullivan’s and Mary Jordan’s Washington Post piece on Jimmy Carter’s simple life in Plains, Georgia.  A taste:

Carter costs U.S. taxpayers less than any other ex-president, according to the General Services Administration, with a total bill for him in the current fiscal year of $456,000, covering pensions, an office, staff and other expenses. That’s less than half the $952,000 budgeted for George H.W. Bush; the three other living ex-presidents — Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama — cost taxpayers more than $1 million each per year.

Carter doesn’t even have federal retirement health benefits because he worked for the government for four years — less than the five years needed to qualify, according to the GSA. He says he receives health benefits through Emory University, where he has taught for 36 years.

The federal government pays for an office for each ex-president. Carter’s, in the Carter Center in Atlanta, is the least expensive, at $115,000 this year. The Carters could have built a more elaborate office with living quarters, but for years they slept on a pullout couch for a week each month. Recently, they had a Murphy bed installed.

Carter’s office costs a fraction of Obama’s, which is $536,000 a year. Clinton’s costs $518,000, George W. Bush’s is $497,000 and George H.W. Bush’s is $286,000, according to the GSA.

Read the entire piece here.  Carter calls Trump “a disaster.”

David Swartz on Jimmy Carter’s “Malaise” Speech

MalaiseOver at The Conversation, David Swartz, a historian of the evangelical Left, has a nice piece on Jimmy Carter’s 1979 “malaise” speech.  Here is a taste:

It was a penetrating cultural critique that reflected Carter’s spiritual values. Like the writers of the New Testament, he called out sin. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, he confessed to personal and national pride.

In the mode of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, he noted the limits of human power and righteousness. In this moment of national chastening, he committed himself and the nation to rebirth and renewal.

As a scholar of American religious history, this so-called “malaise speech” (though Carter never actually used the word “malaise”) was, in my opinion, the most theologically profound speech by an American president since Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.

Read the entire piece here.

I have long been a fan of Carter’s speech.  Back in 2009, I called it “one of the best presidential speeches in American history.”

Politicians at the Southern Baptist Convention

Carter at SBC

Mike Pence is not the first politician to speak at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).  Historian Thomas Kidd offers some historical context in a piece at The Gospel Coalition.  Here is a taste:

It was not unheard of for politicians to address the SBC annual meeting. In 1967, U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield, a liberal Republican and devout Conservative Baptist, addressed the annual meeting on the topic of poverty and the need for effective welfare policy.

The SBC made a significant turn in 1972 when it invited Nixon to address the annual meeting. With Graham’s assistance, Nixon had continued to cultivate support from the SBC, especially as Americans became disenchanted with the war in Vietnam. SBC officials extended a formal invitation to Nixon, who assured them that he would come if his schedule allowed. Some SBC leaders were outraged at the prospect of Nixon’s appearance, and Nixon thought better of it and decided to withdraw, citing scheduling problems. But a key precedent had been set: the SBC became a destination for major politicians in election years.

In 1976 Gerald Ford became the first sitting president to address the annual meeting. Jimmy Carter did likewise in 1978—in a sense, his was the most expected appearance since Carter was, at the time, still a Southern Baptist. But after his appearance, Democrats at the SBC annual meeting would become an endangered species.

Read the entire piece here.

My Piece at *Religion Dispatches* on Jimmy Carter’s Visit to Liberty University

Liberty-Ben-Carson-Jimmy-Carter-Jerry-FalwellHere is a taste:

Last year Donald Trump delivered the commencement address at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of the university, said that Trump’s speech “will go down in history as one of the greatest commencement speeches ever.”

This year’s speaker was Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States. On Saturday the Liberty University community heard a commencement address from an evangelical Christian who disagrees with Trump and Falwell Jr. on almost every major policy issue of the age.

Carter and the Falwell family have had an uneasy relationship over the years. Both Carter and Jerry Falwell Sr. (the founder of Liberty University and the father of the current university president) claim(ed) to be born-again Christians. But during the Carter administration, Falwell Sr. was a staunch critic of the president’s position on a host of social issues. Carter supported the Equal Rights Amendment. Falwell Sr. did not. Carter opposed prayer in schools and a constitutional amendment banning abortion (although he opposed abortion personally). Falwell Sr. championed both issues. Carter believed that government had a major role to play in promoting justice. Falwell thought government was an intrusion on individual liberties.

Falwell Sr. also criticized Jimmy Carter for his infamous 1976 interview with Playboy magazine in which the Georgia governor and presidential candidate confessed that he had “committed adultery in my heart many times.” Falwell Sr. said that Carter’s decision to give an interview to Playboy “was lending the credence and the dignity of the highest office in the land to a salacious, vulgar magazine that did not even deserve the time of his day.”

Read the rest at Religion Dispatches.

What Jimmy Carter Said Today at Liberty University

 

Yesterday I wrote a post on what I thought Jimmy Carter could teach Jerry Falwell Jr. at today’s Liberty University commencement.

Today Carter delivered his address.  In his introduction of Carter, Falwell Jr. could not help but try to compare the former president to Donald Trump.  Falwell Jr. politicizes everything.  Hey Jerry, Liberty University’s commencement is for the graduates, it is not about your court evangelicalism.  Here is what Falwell Jr. said:

Becky and I attended the opening of the Billy Graham Library in 2007 about one month after my father’s death.  And I remember commenting to Becky then, that of the four former presidents speaking that day, Jimmy Carter sounded more like one of us than the rest…President Trump has called me and spoken to me about his appreciation for the former president’s friendship and support…Both Presidents Carter and Trump entered the White House as outsiders to the Washington establishment, and I hope that many more outsiders will follow.  The longer I live the more I want to…give my political support to a person.  Policies are important, but candidates lie about their policies all the time in order to get elected.  The same elite establishment that Jesus condemned remains the real enemy today.

After this, Falwell Jr. praised Carter for his 1976 Playboy interview because Carter followed the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to list for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Of course Falwell Jr.’s father, Jerry Falwell Sr., was one of the strongest critics of Carter’s Playboy interview.  This is why it is kind of shocking that Falwell Jr. would go on to say: “It saddens me today to think that so many conservative Christians attacked and demeaned Jimmy Carter in the 1970s for quoting Jesus Christ to a secular magazine.”

So what did Jimmy Carter say to the Liberty University graduates?

  • Carter began with a jab at Trump: “This is a wonderful crowd.  Jerry told me before we came here that it’s even bigger, I hate to say this, than it was last year. I don’t know if President Trump will admit that or not.”
  • Carter admits that “he was surprised he was invited to Liberty to speak.” He recalls that he received a lot of negative letters from Liberty students when he was in the White House.  “Most of them were about my giving away the Panama Canal or forming what they believed to be an unnecessary Department of Education or normalizing diplomatic relations with the communist government of China.”  (I am sure some of these letters looked like this).  Carter adds: “Those critical letters…ended with the 1980 election which brought my involuntary retirement from the White House. After that I didn’t get very many letters from Liberty.”  .
  • While Falwell tried to paint Carter as a politician who is on Liberty’s side in the culture wars, Carter told a slightly different story about his life.  Carter did not define his life in terms of politics.  Instead, he talked about his work at sharing the Gospel (“winning souls to Christ”) as a young man, his Sunday School teaching, his championing of peace and human rights, his efforts to end global disease, and his volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity.
  • Carter reminds the Liberty graduates and their families about the great disparities of wealth around the world.  Here he sounds like Bernie Sanders (who he supported for POTUS in the 2016 election).
  • Carter said that he believes the greatest moral challenge we face right now is “discrimination against women and girls in the world.”
  • Carter talked about his attempt in the early 1980s to bring leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention together to prevent a split in the denomination.  He said the meeting failed largely because many of the leaders present, some of them who would go on to become presidents of the denomination, were unwilling to compromise on the status of women in the church.  (One can’t think about these comments without reflecting on the recent controversial remarks of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson).
  • Carter wants to unify Christians in the world, especially Southern Baptists.  (Falwell Jr.  nods in agreement).
  • Carter makes a subtle and indirect jab at Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement: “America has abandoned its leadership…as a champion of a clean and healthy environment.”
  • Carter identifies himself as an “evangelical Christian.”  He is not yet willing to abandon the label.
  • Carter quotes Reinhold Niebuhr: “the sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world.”  He asks Liberty students to go beyond mere justice and promote “agape love, self-sacrificial love among people.”
  • Carter tells the Liberty graduates that Americans have always had a hard time embracing equality.  He adds: “even now, some of us our still struggling to accept the fact that all people are equal in the eyes of God.”  (Here Carter gets some tepid applause from the crowd).  He adds, “our nation should be known as a champion of peace, our nation should be known as a champion of equality, our nation should be known as a champion of human rights.”
  • He challenges the students “to live a completely successful life as judged by God.”
  • Carter adds: “We decide whether we tell the truth, or benefit from telling lies. We decide, do I hate, or am I filled with love? We’re the ones who decide: do I think only about myself or do I care for others?”

Indeed, Jimmy Carter is an evangelical.

Compare Carter’s speech with last year’s speech by Donald Trump:

What Jimmy Carter Can Teach Jerry Falwell Jr. Tomorrow

81e2e-carter

Last year Donald Trump delivered the commencement address at Liberty University. This year’s speaker is Jimmy Carter.

Carter and the Falwell family—the late Jerry Falwell Sr. founded the university in 1978 and Jerry Falwell Jr. is the current president—have not always seen eye-to-eye about how evangelicals should engage with public life.

Both Jimmy Carter and Jerry Falwell Sr. claimed to be born-again Christians, but during the Carter administration, Falwell Sr., the host of the popular “Old-Time Gospel Hour” television program, was a staunch critic of the president’s position on a host of social issues.  Carter supported the Equal Rights Amendment.  Falwell Sr. did not.  Carter opposed prayer in schools and a constitutional amendment banning abortion (although he opposed abortion personally).  Falwell Sr. championed both issues.

Falwell Sr. also criticized Jimmy Carter for his infamous 1976 interview with Playboy magazine in which the presidential candidate confessed that he has “committed adultery in my heart many times.”  Falwell Sr. said that Carter’s decision to give an interview to Playboy “was lending the credence and the dignity of the highest office in the land to a salacious, vulgar magazine that did not even deserve the time of his day.”

By 1980, Falwell Sr. was leading a contingency of conservative evangelical ministers, a group that included Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, James Robison, and Tim LaHaye, who rejected Carter in favor of Ronald Reagan.

Reagan was fond of talking about the Christian roots of American freedom, often mentioning the seventeenth-century Puritan belief that the United States was a “city upon a hill.”  Reagan opposed abortion, promised to fight moral decay, and said he would keep the federal government from intruding on the lives and schools of ordinary evangelicals.

Even after Reagan defeated Carter in the 1980 presidential election, Falwell Sr. did not stop his criticism of the former president.  When the Lynchburg minister questioned Carter’s faith, Carter fired back: “There is nothing any television evangelist can do to shake my faith…Jerry Falwell can–in a very Christian way–as far as I’m concerned, he can go to hell.”

Fast forward to 2016.  When Donald Trump made a campaign stop at Liberty University, Jerry Falwell Jr., who would shortly thereafter endorse his candidacy, took his own shot at Carter: “My father was criticized in the early 1980s for supporting Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter…because Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood actor who’d been divorced and remarried and Jimmy Carter was a Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher….Jimmy Carter was a great Sunday school teacher, but look what happened to our nation with him in the presidency.  Sorry.”

So why is Jimmy Carter giving the commencement address tomorrow at Liberty University?

Because Carter is a grace-filled Christian.  After Falwell Jr. read a Bible passage at a prayer service on the morning of the Trump inauguration, Carter, who was also in attendance, approached the Liberty University president and thanked him.  As Falwell Jr. put it in a Liberty press release: “He stopped me afterward and told me he thought I did a good job…He said he saw my name on the program before I spoke, and he thought it was great that I’d be here to read Scripture.  He was very kind.”

Carter did not need to do this, but his evangelical faith no doubt compelled him. He has a lot to teach Falwell Jr. and the students at Liberty University.  Consider:

  • Carter confessed his sin on the pages of Playboy magazine.  Jerry Falwell Jr. supports a president who has been on the cover of Playboy multiple times and claims to have never had the need to confess his sins.  In fact, Trump’s Playboy cover is prominently displayed in this picture of Trump and Falwell Jr.
  • Jimmy Carter practices a Christianity defined by hope, not fear.
  • Jimmy Carter is an advocate for peace in the Middle East and has long shown his solidarity with Palestinian Christians.  Jerry Falwell Jr. supports the president responsible for this.
  • Jimmy Carter understands that the Christian life is a life of humility, compassion, service, and self-sacrificial love, not a life in pursuit of political power.
  • Jimmy Carter calls Christians to “work together in harmony and to forget about political differences and to pursue the principles of Jesus Christ.”  Falwell Jr. seems more concerned about dividing the Christian church.
  • Jimmy Carter called the nation to self-sacrifice and a sense of limits.  He understood that American freedom also required a sense of duty and a commitment to the needs of others.  Falwell Sr. chose a presidential candidate who defended a political philosophy that offered “the right to dream ‘heroic dreams’ without sacrifice.”  Reagan promised “a combination of guttural self-interest mixed with a utopian vision of the future,” a vision “that Carter could never offer….”

I look forward to hearing Carter’s speech.

Falwell Jr. Gets Some Blowback from the Fundamentalist Faithful for Inviting Jimmy Carter to Campus

Liberty U

Jerry Falwell Jr. has chosen former president Jimmy Carter to deliver the 2018 commencement address at Liberty University.  Read about it here.

Falwell Jr. and Carter do not see eye-to-eye politically, but Falwell Jr., despite his rabid support of Donald Trump, wants to show the world that he can tolerate those who differ with him on political matters.  It is a shrewd move.  I am sure Falwell Jr. will remind everyone about Carter’s commencement address the next time someone criticizes him for hosting one of Trump’s surrogates.

But at least one Liberty University graduate is not very happy about Falwell Jr.’s decision to invite Carter.  Here is a taste of Randall Braley’s recent letter to the Lynchburg News & Advance:

As an alumnus of Liberty University, I am appalled that Jerry Falwell Jr. has chosen former President Jimmy Carter as commencement speaker. He recently called Carter a “true Christian,” but according to the Bible this is not possible. Rather Carter is an apostate, a false teacher and a deceiver because he denies fundamental teachings of the Word of God.

There’s a glaring contradiction between Carter and much of what LU and Thomas Road Baptist Church have stood for. Carter has no real godliness or wisdom to share with graduates, and in violation of scriptural admonitions like 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, Liberty is about to foolishly entangle and tarnish itself with his false and perverse version of the faith.

I have warned Falwell Jr. of how serious a mistake this is, but he has not even acknowledged my emails.

No real Christian is deceived about homosexuality, because the Holy Spirit leads us in truth (1 John 2, John 17) and the New Testament is very clear about homosexuality (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Romans 1:24-32, 1 Timothy 1:8-11 etc). Carter is so deceived, he claimed in 2015 that Jesus would approve of same-sex marriage and even said America should elect an openly homosexual president.

It is blasphemous to suggest Jesus would endorse wicked behavior and a perversion of marriage. Jesus defined marriage as heterosexual-only, between one man and one woman, in his teaching about marriage and divorce in Matthew 19:1-12. He reaffirmed God’s plan from the beginning of creation in Genesis, and there is no other option given. The exception Jesus made for divorce condemns homosexuality — in the usage of those days, the Greek word “porneia” (commonly translated “sexual immorality” by modern translators) referred to all sexual sins outside of traditional marriage, including homosexuality.

Carter worships a different Jesus, not the real one.

Even on a secular level, Carter was a failure as president, and as a result was soundly beaten by Ronald Reagan. Carter said he championed human rights, but was quite the hypocrite. He allowed communism to overrun many countries, and the Muslim extremists to overthrow Iran and then hold our people hostage. The U.S. economy was in shambles, and he did not have an answer to that either.

Read the rest here.

The Hopeful Christianity of Jimmy Carter

Carter Jimmy

Check out Elizabeth Palmer’s interview with Jimmy Carter at The Christian Century.  Carter’s new book is titled Faith: A Journey for All.

A taste of the interview:

In Faith, you write, “I have faith that God is slowly bending eternity toward redemption, and that someday . . . moral perfection based on love as expressed by Jesus Christ will prevail.” What gives you a basis for this kind of hopefulness?

The history of America gives me hope. We’ve been through some very trying times in the past, and the resilience of our country and the principles of our Constitution have always prevailed. I have confidence that in the future we’ll do the same thing, despite the difficulties we face today.

We went through a civil war to do away with slavery, and later we struggled to give women the right to vote in our democracy. In the 120 years since the “separate but equal” ruling of the Supreme Court, our judges have had to struggle with discrimination against African Americans. We’re still struggling with that. We’ve had a resurgence of discrimination in the last few years—and it’s against not only African Americans and other minorities but also immigrants. We have a great disparity in income, with people’s opportunities depending on how rich they are. There’s also a disparity of treatment within our judicial system. We have about seven and a half times as many people in prison now as we did when I left the White House, for instance, and we have the most prisons of any country on earth.

These problems have long existed, but they’ve been aggravated or brought to the attention of the public more recently, since the election. But in general, our country has proven able to deal with such struggles.

You note the divisions in our society that have increased sharply in recent decades—divisions rooted in political differences, racial tensions, economic inequality, and more. If you were president today, what would be your first steps toward mending those divisions?

I’d emphasize through public statements that I pledge to keep my country at peace and to be a champion of human rights. One of the things that America would like to be is a superpower, but there are more elements of being a superpower than just military strength. The United States of America ought to be seen by the rest of the world as a champion of peace, not war, a champion of human rights, a champion of equality, and a champion of generosity to help people in need. Those are the kind of values that need to be emphasized in the future of America, and I hope and pray that this will be the case.

If you had one final Sunday school class to teach, what would it be on? What Bible verses would you choose?

I change my Sunday school lesson every Sunday to accommodate modern-day headlines. But one of my favorite Bible verses is “Be ye kind one to another, as God through Jesus Christ has been kind to all of us” [Eph. 4:32]. And that’s a challenge. We now have the possibility of eliminating all living creatures on earth with the use of nuclear weapons. The next step in the evolution of human beings has to be learning how to live with each other in peace and with some degree of love. Jesus said we should not only love our neighbor but love our enemies [Matt. 5:43–44], which means loving those with whom we disagree. We have to learn how to get along with Russians and Muslims and North Koreans in a constructive spirit of care, instead of asking what’s the best excuse we have to go to war with them.

Read the entire interview here.

 

Court Evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. Defends Trump

I wouldn’t be surprised if Falwell Jr. is on the Trump payroll.

Falwell Jr. quotes “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  Fair enough.  Hey Liberty University students, did you hear that?  I am sure the person in charge of student discipline at Liberty does not operate this way.

Falwell Jr. also says that only president who was “above reproach” was Jimmy Carter.   I agree that Carter was above approach, but what about Barack Obama?

Jimmy Carter Will Deliver 2018 Liberty University Commencement Address

Last year it was Donald Trump. This year it is Jimmy Carter.

Some context:

Here is what Jerry Falwell Jr. said about Jimmy Carter in 2016. (Fast-forward to the 4:35 mark):

And then this happened.

Jimmy Carter is a grace-filled Christian.   But the antics of the Religious Right often put his Christian spirit to the test.  At one point during the 1980 presidential election campaign Carter said, “Jerry Falwell can go straight to hell…and I mean that in a Christian way.”

I doubt Carter will repeat these words at the 2018 Liberty commencement, but he does have a message that the university’s student body and administration needs to hear.  I hope he delivers it.

I should also add that Messiah College is well ahead of the curve here.  Carter spoke on our campus in 1986.

What It Is Like To Attend Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School Class

Carter

This is a great first-hand account of a visit to Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia.

Here is a taste:

PLAINS, Ga. (RNS) — We wake at 5 a.m. because we are told everyone in our hotel has come for the same reason —  to see 92-year-old Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, conduct Bible study at Maranatha Baptist Church.

An hour later, still 45 minutes before sunrise, my wife and I, along with her brother and his wife, are driving 10 miles west from Americus to Plains.

The man handing out numbers at Maranatha Baptist says that, at 6:25 a.m., we are car No. 72, and he reckons that 160 people will stand in line ahead of us.

About 7:45 a.m., we line up, by car number, in a swarm of gnats.

At the front door, I empty my pockets and a Secret Service agent waves a wand across my front and backside.

Once inside, I give thanks for air conditioning and the absence of gnats.

Read the rest here.

Is Jimmy Carter a Lost Causer?

Over at Civil War Memory, Kevin Levin discusses a fascinating story about Jimmy Carter and the Lost Cause.  It will be published in a chapter in his forthcoming edited collection, Interpreting the Civil War at Museums and Historic Sites. The story comes from an essay on historical markers and the Civil War written by Todd Groce, the CEO of the Georgia Historical Society.

The story centers on this marker,  which was originally placed on the grounds of the Carter Center in Atlanta:

George Civil WAR

Apparently Jimmy Carter did not like the text of the marker and wanted it changed to reflect, according to Groce, “a more traditional Lost Cause interpretation.”  This happened in 2015.

Read more at Civil War Memory.

Jimmy Carter: I Voted for Bernie

Bernie

This is not very surprising, but it is worth pointing out.

Here is a taste of a piece at Salon:

In an interview an hour prior to his discussion with Sanders, Carter told AJC that the longest-serving independent senator was a perfect representation for what Carter Center’s forum stands for.

“I think during the last election in America, Bernie Sanders represented the best of all the candidates what this conference is about,” Carter said. “When you lose your opportunity to have some reasonable chance of a decent income, you lose a lot of other things as well. One of the key things people feel is that they’ve lost a voice in their own government.”

Carter, 92, listed ideals that the American people need to continue to fight for. “Basic human rights, income, status in society, health care, education, justice,” he said. “The things in which we used to have complete faith have now been distorted by rich people getting richer.”

Read the entire piece here.

Jimmy Carter’s Christianity

81e2e-carterIn case you missed it, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently interviewed Jimmy Carter about his Christian faith.  Here is a taste of the interview:

Christians celebrate Easter on Sunday. But wait — do we really think Jesus literally rose from the dead?

I asked questions like that in a Christmas Day column, interviewing the Rev. Tim Keller, a prominent evangelical pastor. In this, the second of an occasional series, I decided to quiz former President Jimmy Carter. He’s a longtime Sunday school teacher and born-again evangelical but of a more liberal bent than Keller. Here’s our email conversation, edited for clarity.

ME How literally do you take the Bible, including miracles like the Resurrection?

PRESIDENT CARTER Having a scientific background, I do not believe in a six-day creation of the world that occurred in 4004 B.C., stars falling on the earth, that kind of thing. I accept the overall message of the Bible as true, and also accept miracles described in the New Testament, including the virgin birth and the Resurrection.

With Easter approaching, let me push you on the Resurrection. If you heard a report today from the Middle East of a man brought back to life after an execution, I doubt you’d believe it even if there were eyewitnesses. So why believe ancient accounts written years after the events?

I would be skeptical of a report like you describe. My belief in the resurrection of Jesus comes from my Christian faith, and not from any need for scientific proof. I derive a great personal benefit from the totality of this belief, which comes naturally to me.

I do not judge whether someone else is a Christian. Jesus said, “Judge not, …” I try to apply the teachings of Jesus in my own life, often without success.

How can I reconcile my admiration for the message of Jesus, all about inclusion, with a church history that is often about exclusion?

As St. Paul said to the Galatians in 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” In His day, Jesus broke down walls of separation and superiority among people. Those (mostly men) who practice superiority and exclusion contradict my interpretations of the life and teachings of Jesus, which exemplified peace, love, compassion, humility, forgiveness and sacrificial love.

Read the entire interview here.

Jimmy Carter Shows Grace

At the prayer service before Donald Trump’s inauguration ceremony (the same ceremony in which Robert Jeffress preached) Jerry Falwell Jr. read from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter six, verses 5-13.  Those familiar with this passage will recall that it is about prayer. It includes the words of the Lord’s Prayer or, as I knew it when I was a kid, the “Our Father.”

This is not a big story.  Falwell Jr. was one of the first evangelical leaders to back Donald Trump’s candidacy.

I did, however, find it interesting that following the service Falwell Jr. met former POTUS Jimmy Carter.

Here is a taste of a Liberty University press release about Falwell Jr.’s encounter with Carter:

Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States, was in attendance and was especially warm, Falwell said.

“He stopped me afterward and told me he thought I did a good job,” Falwell said. “He said he saw my name on the program before I spoke, and he thought it was great that I’d be here to read Scripture. He was very kind.” 

After the service, the attendees went to the Capitol for the Inauguration ceremony.

Jimmy Carter is a gracious man.  Some of you may remember what Jerry Falwell Jr. said about him during the 2016 campaign.  (Start at the 4:10 mark and listen until the 5:30 mark)

Call for Papers: Jimmy Carter and the ‘Year of the Evangelicals’ Reconsidered

year-of-evangelicalThis looks like a great conference that will be of interest to readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

CFP:  Jimmy Carter and the ‘Year of the Evangelicals’ Reconsidered

April 6-8, 2017

New Hampshire Institute of Politics, Saint Anselm College

Manchester, New Hampshire

In 1976 Newsweek magazine borrowed a phrase from pollster George Gallup and proclaimed that year the “Year of the Evangelicals.”  Both presidential candidates – Republican Gerald Ford and Democrat Jimmy Carter – claimed to be “born again” Christians, a claim made by one third of all Americans; and significant proportions of Protestants and Catholics told Gallup’s pollsters that the Bible should be taken literally, a marker of conservative evangelical Christianity.  This phenomenon caught journalists by surprise, and they struggled to understand this new segment of the electorate, beginning at the top with the candidacy of Jimmy Carter. The election of 1976 brought evangelicals back into the political arena. While many of these people supported Carter’s candidacy and made the difference in his election, the ways in which they influenced public life quickly extended beyond Carter and the Democratic Party.  It also marked evangelicals’ movement from the margins of intellectual and cultural life into the mainstream. Indeed, they soon became a political and cultural force.

Some forty years later, with financial support from the Henry Luce Foundation, Saint Anselm College and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics in Manchester, New Hampshire, will host a conference in honor of that Newsweek cover story and presidential election. The conference, “Jimmy Carter and ‘The Year of the Evangelicals’ Reconsidered” aims to assess both the scholarly and popular significance of the return to public life of American evangelicals.  While the Newsweek cover story provides the initial starting point, this conference aims to explore the phenomenon of evangelicals and politics more broadly. 

Conference organizers seek individual paper proposals or proposals for an entire panel that analyze evangelicalism in light of its contributions to public life both in and since 1976.  In many ways, scholarship on late twentieth-century evangelicalism and the rise of the Religious Right has matured.  But there are still questions to be answered and new interpretations to be offered.  The following research questions point to potential areas for proposals, but this list is not exhaustive and proposals that address other questions or re-imagine conventional interpretations will be welcomed. 

First, with the rise of the Religious Right in the late 1970s and 1980s, the progressive evangelicalism in the Newsweek article was relegated to minority status in the political world.  Why is that and what happened to its political influence in the late 20th century? 

Second, in the Newsweek story, Foy Valentine, leader of the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission, called the label “evangelical” a “Yankee” word.  What made southern Protestant Christianity different from the rest of the nation (and why was it not necessarily “evangelical”)?

Third, African Americans are not often included in the category “evangelical” – especially in the political sense that characterized Newsweek’s story. What about African-American evangelicals?  Where do they fit in evangelicalism’s conventional historical narrative?

Fourth, what has been evangelicals’ influence on popular culture and intellectual life since their return to public life in the 1970s?

Fifth, where are we now?  Has evangelicalism’s influence on American politics diminished in the twenty-first century? 

Sixth, what about the mainstream press’s treatment of evangelicals and politics?  What impact did the Newsweek cover story and the election of 1976 have on journalists?

Finally, what was the relationship between Catholics and evangelicals during this period?

Individual paper proposals should include a 250-word abstract, a brief (1-page) CV, and contact information (including email address).  Panel proposals should include a 500-word abstract, with brief (1-page) CVs for all participants and contact information for the panel organizer.

Direct proposals and any questions to Andrew Moore (amoore@anselm.edu).

Deadline for submissions is November 15, 2016.

Jimmy Carter for President!

Carter JCNo, this isnt’s some weird flashback from 1976 or 1980.  The title of my post comes from David Swartz’s recent piece at The Anxious Bench: “J.C. Can Save America.”  When Swartz, the author of Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism, writes about evangelical Democrats, I pay attention.

In this post Swartz reminds that there was a time not too long ago when evangelicals mobilized for a Democratic candidate.  Here is a taste:

Before Ted Cruz and George W. Bush, evangelicals used identity politics to mobilize for a Democratic candidate. Bailey Smith, president of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1970s, told a crowd of 15,000 that the nation needs “a born-again man in the White House . . . and his initials are the same as our Lord’s.” Supporters mass-produced posters and pins that read “J.C.,” “J.C. Will Save America,” “J.C. Can Save America,” and “Born Again Christian for Jimmy Carter.” One poster depicted Carter with long, flowing hair and dressed in biblical garb with the caption “J.C. Can Save America.”

Some of the hagiographical material surrounding Carter’s candidacy portrayed God and politician working in concert. “There is a sense of history in the making; a feeling that something mysterious and irresistible is at work behind the scenes,” wrote Bob Slosser in a book called The Miracle of Jimmy Carter (1973). God had engineered conditions “which seem to have worked together to bring [Carter] to this moment in history.” In fact, Carter and God communed regularly. “Carter often—in the midst of a conference or conversation—closed his eyes, put his fist under his chin, bowed his head slightly, and talked to the Lord for a few seconds while the conversation continued around him.” Such spiritual integrity, Slosser explained, gave the candidate special resources which could be used to reshape the nation. Slosser surmised that the election “could bring a spiritual revival to the United States and its government.”

As far as I know, Carter did not engineer this rhetoric. In fact I imagine that he would have seen it as theologically problematic. But his overenthusiastic supporters nonetheless designed initials and a ambiguous body on campaign ephemera insinuating that Jimmy Carter was a political surrogate for Jesus Christ himself.

Read the entire post here.

 

That Time Gerald Ford Lost His Voice

This past week at the Fred W. Smith Library at Mount Vernon I attended a discussion of American first ladies with C-SPAN’s Susan Swain and presidential historian Richard Norton Smith.

The discussion was based on Swain’s book  First Ladies: Presidential Historians on the Lives of 45 Iconic American Women.  (The program will air on C-SPAN on Sunday night at 7pm).

I learned a lot of things I did not know about First Ladies.  For example, I did not know that Gerald Ford lost his voice on the day of the 1976 presidential election.  After Jimmy Carter won the election, first lady Betty Ford delivered her husband’s concession speech.

Are Evangelicals Flocking to Donald Trump in the Same Way They Flocked to Ronald Reagan in 1980?

Ronald Reagan at the N.A.E. Annual Convention, March 8, 1983

Randall Balmer, our friend on the religion faculty at Dartmouth College, thinks so.  


In a provocative op-ed at The New York Times, Balmer compares evangelical’s love of the Donald Trump presidential candidacy with the love they experienced in 1980 for a candidate with a pro-choice voting record and an opponent of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act who launched his campaign in a town where three civil rights workers were murdered.  His name was Ronald Reagan

Balmer argues that evangelicals abandoned the true “evangelical” candidate in 1980–the sitting president Jimmy Carter.

Here is a taste:

Among the more bizarre developments of the campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination is Donald Trump’s apparent popularity among evangelicals. Several polls show Trump garnering a plurality — though not a majority — of evangelical votes.
Pundits, religious and otherwise, have been shaking their heads about this. Some evangelicals claim the polling is faulty — because it has to be! Devoted Christians, the thinking goes, shouldn’t embrace a thrice-wed blustery billionaire who, until very recently, supported abortion rights. How, after all, can Trump’s race-baiting rhetoric about immigration be reconciled with biblical injunctions to welcome the stranger?
In one of the more amusing commentaries, Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention claimed that evangelicals had suddenly abandoned biblical values in their fondness for Trump. “To back Mr. Trump,” Moore wrote in the New York Times, “these voters must repudiate everything they believe.”
Moore’s lament that evangelicals have forsaken “the conservation of moral principles and a just society” in their love affair with Trump may be good theater, but it’s colossally bad history. The evangelical repudiation of the faith for a mess of political pottage is not a recent phenomenon. It can be traced at least as far back as the 1980 presidential election, when evangelicals deserted Jimmy Carter, one of their own, for Ronald Reagan.
Whereas Carter advocated racial and sexual equality, cornerstones of a “just society” and articles of faith for 19th century evangelicals, Reagan opposed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. Reagan opened his 1980 general election campaign in, of all places, Philadelphia, Miss., the site of the brutal slayings of three civil rights workers by the Ku Klux Klan 16 summers earlier. In his speech at the Neshoba County Fair on Aug. 3, Reagan proclaimed his support for “states rights,” coded language employed by a generation of Southern segregationists.
Read the entire piece here.
Balmer may have overstated his case a bit, but it is hard to deny that Reagan and conservative evangelicals were not strange bedfellows in 1980. I wonder if anyone delivered a Russell Moore-type op-ed back then?