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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 • Faith Now • Georgia • Politics

soundoff (1,124 Responses)
  1. net&yahu

    don't bother u tool! Israel is in its own hands now and the stupid bazurd Oboma and Carter and Bush r all history...let them die there. The Iranians will soon level the US

    March 17, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  2. Dale Jackaman

    It's still a shame that a country supposedly as advanced as the US still believes in fairy tales and elects presidents that run the country based on dangerous ideology and a deity for which no proof exists. Daft.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Pipe-Dreamer

      Dale Jackboy,,,,, I nor other God-Fearing people need to show you of GOD's Existence! What You Jackalad need to do is PROVE OTHERWISE THAT GOD DOES NOT EXIST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      March 17, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • net&yahu

      u r a FAIREE!

      March 17, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • net&yahu

      WORST AND MOST ANTISEMITIC PRESIDENT IN US HISTORY!!!

      March 17, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  3. Jeb

    Ironically the most Christian President we've ever had is generally hated by co-called right wing Christians because he is a Democrat.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • net&yahu

      I am a Democrat that voted for this SOB....my grandmother who would be 113 now but died in 97 at age 98 voted for this putz and I loved him because she did...he is an antisemitic Sonofabotch that needs no further mention...let the SOB die! All of us will soon at the hands of the fools he let live...the Iranians!

      March 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • countrycook

      remember in his own words he "lusted" after many women

      March 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  4. Me

    Mr. Carter is the best president in modern history of our country.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • David

      In time, when objectively analyzed, he will be regarded as one of the greatest Presidents in our history. Those who take the time to think will realize that almost everything he is blamed for was something either completely out of his control (i.e. hostages in Iran, the high interest rates he inherited). U.S. Carter's doing the impossible by having Sadat and Begin agree to peace saved many lives, but wasn't as glamorous as Reagan's bombing of Libya. In time . . .

      March 17, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  5. gager

    Carter trying to suckup to an imaginary god that dislikes suckups.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  6. David

    To criticize Jimmy Carter very clearly reveals one indisputable fact about what's important to you:
    Republican Party comes first
    God comes second

    March 17, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • gager

      Carter was the worst president ever and I'm an atheist republican.

      March 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • David

      I will rephrase in your case:
      GOP comes first
      Honesty and integrity second (if at all)

      March 17, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  7. PDC

    I'm thinking that a lot of people posting about what a great president Carter was, didn't live through his presidency. I did live through it, and he is widely regarded by many more studied than I - and most of the commenters to this article - to have been a very ineffective president. What was good about 18% mortgage rates? What was good about the gasoline shortage and expensive gasoline prices? Carter made a recession much worse than it needed to be. Then in his more recent escapades he was instrumental in Chavez of Venezuela getting elected, and he famously has made some very anti-semetic statements. The list goes on but this needs to be brief.

    Jimmy Carter is, I'm sure, a very nice person; but he was not a good president.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • countrycook

      don't forget he also helped the terrorist group Hamas get elected and now is working to get The Muslim brotherhood terrorist get elected. You failed as a President Jimmy and You stink as a has been

      March 17, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  8. john cougar

    You know whats funny, the brainless blogs probably come from people who were not even thought of when Carter was president.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Pipe-Dreamer

      Jimmiy Boy was, is and ever shall be nothin more then a shallow cut upon the fabrisciousness of theo-political venues. :-(

      March 17, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  9. Pipe-Dreamer

    Bible Theocrats run the tracks of Humanism and once in a while a BIBLE BELIEVING Theocrat just comes onto the stage to beget and parlor their inuendoes when the need is the greatest. DON'T YA JUST LUV The Day's Theosophical Pranksters?

    March 17, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  10. LMD

    Jimmy Carter may not have been the best at being President,buy he has always been a man of character.He was foresighted enough to see out ever growing dependence on foreign oil and did try to warn this country that it would be the down fall of us all, And here we are,all these yrs later and what he said has basically come true.His religion was never flaunted the way the candidates of today are trying to do. He held to his beliefs,but did not try to change Americans to his way of thinking.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • countrycook

      "he has always been a man of character" which looney tune character did he play ? Maybe daffy duck

      March 17, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  11. John

    If I did believe in god, it would be that MY creator has a direct link to me when/if he/she wants it. That NO human being is between us to say to me what god means and/or wants. Of me. Of me to become. Without god I need and want to be self-respecting, and you cannot be that if you have no limits at all, self-imposed, in how you will respect your world and the people around you. F*** religions, all of them. You know what is right. You do not need somebody else telling you.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  12. Ben Barnett

    My wife and I had the privilege of attending one of President Carters Sunday School Classes a few years ago and it was a wonderful experience.

    I think history will be very kind to Jimmy Carter and put his time in office in more favorable and proper light. His life and conduct puts most of the current seekers of the office to shame.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  13. Christine

    I have such admiration for a man who will not back down from his values or his beliefs to take advantage of the power inherent as Commander-in-Chief, but rather lets his faith guide his actions, not crumbling to to the current Godless world view that anything goes. Thank you, Mr. Carter for being a bright light in a dark place.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  14. countrycook

    He loves and defends the same terrorist that lost him re-election and made him a laughing stock. Peanut farmer.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  15. Angie France

    He was scary as president but It's downright frightening to think that people actually would respect his view of faith and the Bible. Run!!

    March 17, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • countrycook

      he doesn't hold the Bible faith of Christians or he would LOVE God's chosen people the Jews.

      March 17, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  16. john cougar

    America...land of the free. Where people are free to say whatever they want even people that are mentally challenged ignoramuses.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  17. countrycook

    you means his "hate" for Israel and Jews filled life

    March 17, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  18. Pipe-Dreamer

    WAKE UP YOUNGLINGS!!!! The Times, They are a Changing provided the fruitiness of the upcoming does not parlor to the plantations of steadfastness! :-)

    March 17, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  19. Pat

    The trouble with Ronnie is he just didn't like people, just the extreme wealthy.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  20. CJ

    Carter didn't create the problem with the Shaw of Iran. He inherited the result of decades of bad foreign policy. There was no easy solution to getting the hostages out of the country. Reagan was willing to sacrifice the hostages, and that scared the Iranians. What's done is done. Move on.

    March 17, 2012 at 5:06 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.