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.
I don't agree with Carter on all issues, but I do have a lot of respect for the man and how he bears himself. Maybe he's right and I'm wrong on the issues where we disagree. But it sure would be nice if all politicians (and all people posting on this forum) were civil and humble in expressing their views.
I have no idea who Jimmy Carter is until I read this article. And I live in Georgia!
Do not worry we shall not hold it against you or your intelligence.
and now the progressives start to eat their own...like the French revolution.
Thank you, Mr. Carter for your inspiration and wisdom.
The guy is a peanut case. He is too simple minded to be entrusted with or to be listened to on important issues. Politics is the dirtiest business of them all and Carter can be too easily manipulated. His memoirs tend to provide more color on why he was such a failure as President.
ths peanut farming yokel should suckke my coccke!
You must have mistaken this for the playgound.
thhis peanut farming yokel should suck my dick!
Thanks for your two cents. That's about what it was worth.
"Carter said it was impossible to separate his Christian faith from his daily life in the White House"
Every Presidential candidate should be asked if they can keep their faith out of the White House.
Believing in myths and fairy tales opens the door to other interpretations of events that could motivate actions leading to fatal results for millions
Well, Bush certainly pursued his religious agenda in the Middle East that was not helpful.
True. And that's exactly why I lean toward a clear headed Christian, all else being equal. Only a Christian has a worldview adequate to negotiate these troubled times.
It's funny u call the unseen a fairy take. If you can prove the validity of your thoughts then you can give credit to your suggestion that spirituality is in the unseen. The truth is God and religion are 2 separate things. You can have one and not the other. Jesus biggest problem were the religeous. However not everything exists in the physical. To start with your thoughts cannot be proven, but they are real. Think about it. If I went into your brain, I could not see your thoughts. That at least gives some cre
Akta, it is very simple, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. The Bible is full of extraordinary claims and it can only rely on itself for validation which is effectually, invalid.
Regardless, by your logic you should be worshiping every god ever created and by your response must have a hard time discerning fantasy from reality
It's amazing to me that atheists will accuse everyone else of believing in "myths and fairy tales". Yet they fail to recognize their own belief in the fairy tale myth that the entire universe and all the life in it just magically poofed itself into existence complete with all the laws of nature. And their shocking blind faith in the existence of life on other planets, even though there is not one shred of evidence to support it, borders on insane. Next thing you know, they'll be professing their absolute certainty in the existence of little green men. Grow up you bigoted fool. There is value in the beliefs of others.
I see this and thought he died and was like.... YES!
...only to be disappointed, damnit
presidnek carter is one of Israel's worst enemies! He is antisemitic to the core!
May the most incompetent president since WW2 please spare us his leftist commentary on the Bible.
if only the worst president ever (W) would have only done the same.
his leftist commentary on the bible? so you think jesus would be down for tax cuts for the rich, corporations are people, hate everyone that is different from you....ect that comes out of the mouths of the right?
I am not religious one bit. But carter pushed more legislation thru congress in his one term than any president in 2 terms(dating very far back, don't know how long). He was humble, was frowned on because he liked to carry his own suitcase of air force one, didnt want the presidential theme play everytime he walked into a function. Lives humble today. very interesting person.
Religion only works if the children are brainwashed early on. It seems once the brain damage is done, it stays that way. We need to make sure the children are not exposed to the religious vires until they are adults. After that, they are more or less immune!
"religious virus" of course!
Prayers for you and your children, and all children on the way.
All babies are athiests. If only some adult wouldn't poison them!
So, Jimmy, Bible Study, right? Eternal Hell exists for sinners...Prayer gives an edge to some who do it...all other religions are wrong...etc etc. An Eternal Force? Really.
I doubt he believes that. You should buy his book and find out.
Out of many progressives this is the guy that I like the least.
During his administration he and the Republican Congress basically fiddled while Rome burned.
He was always worrying more about his image and the stupid Israeli-Palestinian situation than he was about the fact that the American economy was melting down.
Carter was the progressive equivalent of George Bush.
We had small businesses going bankrupt in record numbers. Inflation out of control. Interest rates at 22.5%.
And yet Carter did absolutely nothing to help struggling American citizens focusing solely on foreign policy.
Bush: Unemployment below 5%, no inflation, small increases in debt (agreed upon by Congress)....Why do you have Bush in this?
You don't give him full credit for what he accomplished.
Bush: Biggest economic collapse in U.S. History.
Carter is the most vile, revolting person in the universe. He is the SINGLE cause of all the unrest in the Middle East starting from the overthrow of the King of Iran, which at that time was our closest ally in the Middle East. The monkeys with turbans he flew into Iran are our current enemy's.
Last thing this malignant rat should do is bring the word GOD to his beastly lips. I am sure the lord has something special for this parasite.
I think he knows Psalm 21 better than you do.
Know your history. The Middle East crisis began with the birth of Israel in 1948. And if you know your Bible, the children of Ishmael (the Arabs) are destined to be enemies of their brothers (the children of Isaac aka the Jews). Dont believe me? me read Genesis chapter 16. If anything, Carter is a tool used by God to fulfill Biblical prophecies. I'd becareful not to speak bad of Carter if you fear God.
Every thing in your post is untrue....
How come a liberal with a bible isn't trashed by the media the same way any other Christian is?
Because if you read the teachings of Jesus, the GOP come off as moral hypocrites.
Granted Liberals and Conservatives are far from Christ's teachings, but I dare say the poor fair better with liberals.
has a lot to do with humility. most christian religious conservatives preach their "godliness" as superior. More like the Pharisees of Jesus day. If you dont know who they were look them up...describes may religious right perfectly.
Interesting how people are saying in the comment section that Carter was the worse president since grant. Last time I checked the worst president in US history HAS to be Buchanan.
Of course, when you factor into the fact that he may have been the first gay present, it makes sense in our PC society.
Amazing that someone as intelligent a Carter would believe a fairytale. Just glad that the NW is the most unreligious sector of the country and we want to keep it that way. A lot of us moved here to get away from the delusional insanity that is religion.
@Loathstheright: I am not sure which hole you are hidig in; I would recomend coming out to the light of the day and see for yourself. People are more and more religious than they ever been, and Islam is growing at the highest rate ever. I feel you may want to consider getting a ticket to Mars if you plan on being in a place wit no religion. If you tried believing in God you would never go back into atheism. Peace...
Your name speaks volumes. Loath, really?
Phoenix123, you are full if sh!t! The number and percentage of non-believers is growing rapidly. The number of believers is growing almost entirely because of geography and what cult a child's parents belong to. Almost no one consciously decides to join a religious cult. If parents and the nearby society did not forcibly indoctrinate the young, religion would dissaappear in few generations. Several countries are already forecast to become majority non-believer over the next few decades. Even any idiot can easily find these facts – are you less than an idiot?
Phoenix123 please stay out of the NW, your kind are not wanted here.
@Phoenix123 – don't know where you think you got those ideas (you made them up). You're also a liar! I was once a Xtian, and am now, a very proud athiest. Put the kool aid down.
Prayer is useless. The end result of something is not affected by whether or not it's been prayed for. Myth-believing idiots.
I am praying for you and your loved ones. Be prepared to be loved.
gavin try the same sentence when you meet your CREATOR...........by then you will know He is for real no myth!!!!!!
@Blessings – I prayed for you to be hated. Hey.. you're right! prayer does work. You are now hated.
"By their fruits shall you know them." Jimmy is an enemy of Israel and a friend to those who'd see her destroyed. Jimmy, if you were a true Christian you wouldn't have things so twisted. If you were a true Christian you'd know that once Israel was regathered physically ('48) that it will never cease to be a nation again. Maybe your next Sunday school lesson can be on Psalm 2?
President Carter is hardly an enemy of Israel. Please be rational.
A "true Christian" is obviously only those that agree with you and your interpretation of scripture.
Oldmo. Why do you bring such shame to Christ in the name of politics.
When did your judgements become a standard of being a Christian.
Please read the bible the only requirement for being a disciple (one that follows Jesus ) is what Jesus himself said:-
By this shall all men know that you are my disciples when you love one another.
It also asks you to pray for the peace of Isreal, which is hardly a requirement for being a Christian.
Plee stop dividing the blood of Jesus that was paid for everyone along biased party lines.
The scripture says for God so loved t he world that he sent His son, not for God so loved Jews, or republipcans.
Jesus is for the world, the law is for Jews, please be like God, love...
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.