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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. moas786

    one thing we are ignoring, there is Only One God. we All come from him and we All shall return to him, the REST is heresy only. all 3 religions say "love your fellow man" and not just the ones that worship like you..

    March 17, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  2. WhackyWaco

    Carter was the worse president until Obama came along.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • moas786

      you have selected a perfect nickname for your self. thats all need to be said.

      March 17, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  3. Paul

    Even Satan appears as an angel of light.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  4. Roger

    Whether you agree with Carter's policies or not, one thing is true. His post-presidential contributions to this country were significantly more important than anything Reagan and both Bushes combined. The only thing the so-called "godly" Republicans did was cut a check and have their names slapped on a library. Carter actually went out and did something for people. I guess that's the difference between someone who talks about God using it for political leverage and someone who believes in God.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Pat

      Amen. For some strange reason, the right just can't admit to that.

      March 17, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • WhackyWaco

      Name the things that he does not personally take credit for.

      March 17, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  5. Pat

    He was a better President than Ronnie but since the right never had any good Presidents, they had to grab onto to someone and they picked Ronnie, a man whose own children dispised him.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  6. Adam

    There is a free mason symbol on the podium he is talking from in the picture.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  7. Scott

    The way Conservatives have attacked the blessed American, one the defines the American dream, tells you all you need to know about them. If we were a truly decent people we would drive them from our midst for being the charlatans they are.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  8. moas786

    president Carter is a great example of a christian leader, unlike w. he practiced what he preached. God bless you sir and this is coming from a muslim american.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Scott

      He has been an anchor in a stormy sea.

      March 17, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  9. john cougar

    Anti semite? WHAT about the Camp David accords?

    March 17, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • WhackyWaco

      Failure.

      March 17, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  10. ricardo

    A refreshing alternative to today's GOP bible thumpers who try to tell us how to live within our own four walls, and what women should do with their bodies

    March 17, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  11. Pat

    Carter was one of the best Presidents we had. The worst, and people for some strange reason won't admit, was Reagan. But we create our destiny and look where each ended up.

    March 17, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  12. Debbie

    Y'all disgusting: Y'all didn't pay attention when you were in school? I sure wouldn't post things which would tend to make people think I was ignorant.

    March 17, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  13. Andrew

    Ethics, conviction and action without making hate laws or Teblowing. Take a good look, "christians".

    March 17, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • moas786

      well said young man. he is a CLASS act, not like these pretenders and wanna be christians.

      March 17, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Gedwards

      Class act???

      "I think people who are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced to a major degree by a belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African American."
      "I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration (Bush) has been the worst in history."
      "We are completely in bed with the Israelis to the detriment of the wellbeing of the Palestinians."

      March 17, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 17, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Pipe-Dreamer

      The ONLY TRUE PRAYER is Done In Secret within one's closet far from the maddening pray-for-me kind(s),,,, :-)

      March 17, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  15. Charlie from the North

    Jimmy Carters only problem was that he ascribed to everyone he met the good will that he had in his heart. That worked better with some than other. Some, like Sadaat and Begin rose to the occasion some like the SOB's in Iran took advantage. Politics were not his strong point but he was a true leader.

    March 17, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  16. Dean

    Compared to now.....Where is Jimmy Carter now that we need him?

    March 17, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • JM

      Helping out on humanitarian issues and living a simple and faithful life.

      March 17, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  17. Pipe-Dreamer

    Mr Carter, like many others, is spun from the falseness of today's religious tracks that fell and are ever pulled away from the bare-bones ideology of preacher empowered mysticisms being ever overlooked and ill-considered. ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL are where one who preaches should also preach to, not just the humans! :-)

    March 17, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  18. Principal

    The world would have been better off if Mr. Jimmy had just stuck to his peanut butter.

    March 17, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • David G.

      And you've done what exactly?

      March 17, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • david reitter

      Mr. Peanut

      March 17, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • PEB

      By him writing those few words he has done more then jimmy Carter did as a president.

      March 17, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • JM

      He's a good man.

      March 17, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • moas786

      are you sure your not in meds?

      March 17, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  19. winstonsmith

    Jimmy Carter, though far from a good president, wasn't as bad as some people say. It's proof that being humble, not making every issue into a simple soundbite, and truly not being a ruthless person isn't always wanted in a position of power... and isn't always effective in a den of snakes.

    Many of the pre and post civil war presidents plus Warren G Harding are far worse, and Carter's failings as CIF were mainly ineffectiveness rather than outright damage to the country. Reagan meanwhile is very overrated, as he ballooned our budget and allied America with many future enemies. The way we judge these presidents is still too rooted in the present, as like it or not we still live in an era of Americanism that Reagan pioneered.

    March 17, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  20. Gedwards

    You forgot one.....

    ....turned bitter old man.

    March 17, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • PEB

      Oh that is so true! bitter to the core

      March 17, 2012 at 4:50 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.