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Jimmy Carter publishes study Bible, discusses faith-filled life
President Jimmy Carter's speaks at an interfaith service in New York in 1991.
March 17th, 2012
06:45 AM ET

Jimmy Carter publishes study Bible, discusses faith-filled life

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) – Jimmy Carter, peanut farmer turned president turned globe-trotting humanitarian, now has another line to add to his business card: Bible commentator. Last week Carter published a Lessons from Life Study Bible, with the subtitle Personal Reflections with Jimmy Carter.

With many Democrats embracing the language of faith in recent years in an attempt to win back so-called values voters from the Republican column, Carter's intense faith life is a good reminder that hardly all Democrats are new to the pew.

Since he returned to Plains, Georgia, from Washington after losing his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan in 1980, Carter has taught Sunday school at the local Maranatha Baptist Church, “about 685 times so far,” he says.

His notes in the new study Bible pull from years of Sunday school lessons. “Like the disciples, we should not be proud, seek an ascendant position or argue about who’s the greatest among us,” he notes in reflecting on a passage from the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus' followers are debating who among them is the greatest.

In a phone interview from his home in Plains, he said politics is one area in need of redemption, bemoaning the influx of vitriol and money into politics.

“I always referred to incumbent President Gerald Ford as ‘my distinguished opponent’ and that’s the way he referred to me. When I later ran against Gov. [Ronald] Reagan, it was the same thing, ‘my distinguished opponent,’” Carter said of his runs for president.

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Carter’s 1976 bid for the White House was cast in the shadow of President Nixon’s resignation following the Watergate scandal. Carter was a seemingly squeaky clean and relatively unknown one-term governor, a Baptist churchgoer who became a darling of evangelical Christian voters.

On the campaign trail, Carter proudly advertised that he had been “born again.” Historian Randall Balmer dubbed him the “Redeemer President” in his book "God in the White House," largely crediting Carter with bringing the vocabulary of evangelicalism into national politics.

President Carter works in the Oval Office in February 1977.

But any notion Carter would govern as he taught Sunday school was dispelled when he took office. "I was taught to believe in the complete separation of church and state,” he said.

Carter says he's a disciple of President Jefferson, who famously wrote in a letter that the First Amendment established "a wall of separation between Church & State.”

Carter’s embrace of that idea did not always go over well at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“I got into some trouble for that because, for instance, I didn’t want Billy Graham, who was my friend, to come and have worship services inside the White House, as had been done in previous presidencies both Democrat and Republican,” he said.

Graham, Carter said, was not happy but later came to understand it.

Carter's presidential daily diaries, compiled by the White House staff to record the movement, conversations and meetings of the president, show Graham and Carter communicated often via telephone and over meals.

President Carter and President Bush pray with the Rev. Billy Graham in 2007.

Indeed, Carter said it was impossible to separate his Christian faith from his daily life in the White House.

Long before he worked out of the Oval Office, he and his wife Rosalynn developed the habit of reading a passage of scripture aloud every night: “She would take a turn one night and I would take the next.”

It was a practice they kept up in the White House and continue to this day, reading through the Bible and then starting again at the beginning. Carter said he and Rosalynn have recently been reading a Spanish translation of the Bible to keep up their language skills.

“I tried to put into my services as president the teachings of Christ,” he said. To Carter that meant policies that pushed for peace around the globe and cared for the needy.

“I was very careful to keep religious practice out of my decisions as president except for moral values,” he said.

In the White House, Carter still found time to quietly teach Sunday school on 14 occasions. He attended services at various churches, including worshipping at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.

The Carter presidential diaries note Carter and his wife attending services in Washington at First Baptist Church. "The President and the First Lady attended the adult Sunday School class," reads an entry from December 18, 1977. "The class was conducted by the President."

A similar entry is written for March 4, 1979.

“I’ve taught Sunday school for almost my entire life, beginning when I was a Midshipman in the Navy at 18 years old,” Carter said.

The majority of those lessons were given at Maranatha Baptist Church, which now has around 30 members. When Carter teaches Sunday school there today, attendance can grow to 800 – passing the population total for the tiny town of Plains, home to 650 residents.

Carter walks through his family peanut farm in an undated campaign photo.

Busloads of tourists regularly pull into the parking lot for a chance to hear the former leader of the free world teach from Scripture. At times, visitors spill into an overflow room with a television monitor, subject to security sweeps by the Secret Service, Carter said.

The church’s answering machine recording begins with the times Carter will be teaching and suggests visitors arrive early, noting the doors open at 8:30 a.m. and that there are no reservations.

Carter’s presence on Sundays is a one-man economic engine for the tiny town. “It really is a huge impact,” said Ruth Sanders, director of the Plains Better Homes Committee, a local tourism office.

She said the seven-room Plains Historic Inn is booked months in advance and that its country diner is jammed. She also notes that Sunday school is the only time people are guaranteed a photo with the former president, who with his wife poses for a picture with everyone who asks after services.

“One of the main things I try to do is to connect the very ancient Scriptures with modern day life," he said. "Either experiences I’ve had or that I believe are things that are interesting to people who come to hear me teach.”

Christian publishing house Zondervan compiled the study Bible, which combines Carter’s teachings and notes with the New International Bible Study Bible.

The NIV translation is one of the best selling English translations of the Bible of all time. Verne Kenney, executive vice president for Zondervan, which published the Carter Bible, expects it to sell 250,000 copies over several years.

“We believe we can find some people we haven’t engaged with the product, with who has written the notes,” Kenney said.

Carter brings some serious credentials to those notes. He served just one term as Georgia governor and one term as president, but is working on his seventh decade as a Sunday school teacher.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Church and state • Georgia • Politics

soundoff (1,124 Responses)
  1. jimmy

    test

    April 29, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  2. Bill Laurance

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    April 27, 2012 at 3:30 am |
  3. ANN WILLIAMS

    I REMEMBER SINGING FOR PRES. CARTER AT HIS ELECTION AND WOULD LOVE TO SIT/ GET IN TOUCH WITH YOU.
    PRES.CARTER I HAD A BEAUTIFUL TIME WITH PHOTOES. also i wrote your election song.
    ANN/GWEN

    April 25, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  4. CSX

    Wicked perverse evil man......call yourself born again and you stand proudly in a political party that supported the murder of 50 million precious babies and Sodomites. You are just another evil Democrat.

    April 14, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  5. CEW

    Have their been any presidents that have devoted themselves to humanitarian issus to the extent of Carter? He may not have been an effective president, but since leaving office, I don't think ANY other president comes close to his accomplishments.

    March 27, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  6. Mike

    Jimmy Carter - The epitome of a fine Christian gentleman, although vain beyond measure. A total embarrassment as President.

    March 25, 2012 at 7:51 am |
  7. Journalist360

    President Carter was an ineffective leader. Both Democrats and Republicans did not follow or support him during his one term. I find it strange that a pro-abortion supporter would write a Bible commentary. What a waste of paper

    March 24, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • CEW

      Just because he wasn't an effective president (and even my parents, staunch liberals that they are, would agree) doesn't mean that his life wasn't well-lived, or that his opinion isn't worth reading.

      March 27, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  8. Tom Marshall

    Carter walks the walk. Habitat for huminaty is one example. Is it no surprise that he has faith who calls us to prayer and service. I look forward to reading is comentary.

    March 24, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  9. Sancte Tigriel

    President Carter's political philosophy was incorrect, but he is a very virtuous man whom I respect for his many righteous acts, as well as respecting him for his long and happy marriage. Perhaps his study Bible will teach people to practice charity and morality. This will make it a very valuable study Bible.

    March 24, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  10. worshipful bro #662

    Because masons like butchering the bible

    March 24, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • Sancte Tigriel

      No, MORMONS like butchering the Bible! Have you seen Mormon founder Joseph Smith's rewritten Bible? He wrote great big long passages into the Holy Bible! Think about how horribly blasphemous that is. It is extremely wicked. And now the Republican Party is heading toward nominating a follower of Joseph Smith for President of the United States.

      I would fear God's wrath if Mitt Romney were elected President.

      March 24, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  11. ytuque

    Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon were far worse men than Jimmy Carter but far better presidents.

    March 24, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • CEW

      I would agree that they were far worse men. I would even agree that they were better presidents. However, that funny little abuse of power called Watergate kinda shoots your theory down. Nixon did more to harm this country than any president since. Unless you count Regan's deficit spending. That was pretty bad, too.

      March 27, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  12. DICK RAMER

    IAM A CHRISTAN DEMOCRAT, PRESIDENT CARTER IS A VERY GOOD MAN . HE TOOK OVER A VERY WOUNDED NATION AND A VERY BROKE NATION FINACIALLY. PRESIDENT JOHNSON HAD LEFT THIS NATION IN TERRIBLE SPIRITUAL AND FINACIALLY SHAPE. I BELIVE RFK AND MLK DEATHS AND WATERGATE ALL CREATED AND ALONG WITH LOSING IMPOSIBLE WAR AND ADVANCE OF AGENDA OF GAY LIFESTYLE AND ABSOLUTE CORRUPTION BY WALL STREET. THE ROOT OF ALL THESE THINGS WAS THE ROOT OF LBJ EGO. HISTORY WILL SHOW THE FALL OF THE AMERICAN DREAM AND THE BEGING OF THE WORLD ORDER WAS FOUNDED UNDER LBJ AND JEH. UNTIL ALL OF THIS IS BROUGHT TO SUFACE AND ATONED FOR WE WILL CONTINUE ON A VERY SCAREY COURSE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 24, 2012 at 3:52 am |
    • worshipful bro #662

      The gay lifestyle was pushed by planned parenthood in a 1969 memo as a way to curb population growth. Smart eh?

      March 24, 2012 at 8:01 am |
  13. Michael1

    Something about Jimmy Carter seems fake. I don't believe he's a Christian. Convince me. What does he believe concerning Christ? Billy Graham is a false prophet himself. How can a genuine Christian be good friends with a false prophet? What fellowship has light with darkness? I'm just not seeing it.

    March 24, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • Braner

      Interesting. With that Logic, Jesus wasn't even a Christian. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners."' But wisdom is proved right by her actions."(Matthew 11:19)

      March 24, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  14. Mike

    There are countless people who teach sunday school who think they are Christian followers of Christ when they really are not. However, the Holy Spirit of God that resides within me has always identified Jimmy Carter as being a true Christian and I'm glad of that fact. I've always thought that his political and some of his reigious views were incorrect, but regardless of that, he seems to be a true follower of Christ...and that's all that really matters.

    March 23, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
  15. omida

    He wasn't a good President because being a president requires deceit and he was a moral person to do so!

    March 23, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  16. Jerry

    So sad that being compassionate is a liability to being to a good president. But being a jerk makes you a good one.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  17. FAtorda

    Carter is obviosly a good priest. HE WAS A VERY LOUSY PRESIDENT.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Aine57

      Isn't it wonderful that he's found his true calling?

      March 23, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  18. Grumpy

    I took my youth group to Plaines, GA, several years ago to attend Pres. Carter's Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church. I'm a liberal Protestant pastor and I found the former President to be an excellent bible scholar. It was a grand experience!

    March 23, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  19. jeani julian

    I have not read his book but I wonder how he will explain his non-support of Israel? How did he work that into his study?

    March 23, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • KWEBB

      read his diaries. His issue with Israel was mainlywith Prime Minister Begin.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • omida

      He always has supported Israel and a fair peace process. He made a critical peace treaty between the two factions possible. What you mean is that why he is not blindly supporting Israel even when Israel is wrong!

      March 23, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • CEW

      You have GOT to be kidding! In order to be a good Christian, one must support Israel no matter what, despite them committing human rights abuses? I support Israel's right to exist within the boundaries of their 1948 charter, and nothing further. And until they come WITH GOOD FAITH to the bargaining table with the Palestinians, I don't support them much, even then.

      March 27, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  20. False Dichotomy

    Sorry to post a bit off topic here, but I am calling a lie a lie.

    From earlier, in numerous places "Okay, b4bigbang, one last chance to demonstrate that creationists don't just make stuff up... I'm calling you out. Show me the modern textbooks that present "Nebraska Man" as a hominid fossil, show me or admit once and for all that you creationists often simply lie to try to support your point of view...I'm serious. What textbooks?"

    So, despite repeated attempts, b4bigbang has not responded (though he has continued to comment on quite a lot on other things). Although I also have heard other creationists make this claim, no one else has responded either. I am going to go ahead and call a lie a lie. My point here is not to particularly attack b4bigbang, it is to take this one pretty typical creationist claim and point out that it is an absolutely unsupportable falsehood, and that this is pretty typical of creationist arguments.

    There seems to be some unwritten rule that it's okay to say absolutely anything in order to further the creationist cause, and whether it is true or not is irrelevant. The dishonesty is so pervasive and is in relation to so many subjects that it's often hard to know where to begin to address it.

    The one thing I am never quite sure of is if a particular individual is knowingly lying, or if they are innocently ignorant and merely perpetuating the lies of others. A number of people, somewhere along that chain of propaganda have to be aware of the dishonestly and freely perpetuate it anyway...ironically, knowingly lying in the name of "Truth."

    March 21, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • True Dichotomy

      What kind of retarded jargon is this....I now have wasted 2 minutes of my life I will never ever get back.....Thanks False Dichotomy!! I am now more stupid for reading this.......Thanks again!!!

      March 25, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.