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 must remind you that God is not a respecter of people,presidents,kings .Has Mr. carter gone to that grove in california ? And now we have a carter bible,is not the King James Bible any good any more. Has he told you that God changed Jacobs name to Israel ? A man cannot receive salvation by his own rightessness ,if that was the case then Christ died in vain !
A Democrat who is religious?
No such thing.
I've always wondered how religious people could ever be Republican in the first place. Do they really believe the Jesus they supposedly follow would be against the poor, against education, against health care for everyone, and in favor of protecting corporations and the rich from having to pay their share of taxes?
False: It's just that the Republicans have figured out exactly how to hijack the religion of those with desperate needs and how to pull the wool over the eyes of the like of texgirl.
I have watched Carter his whole career. I think, in the end, i see him as very condescending and pompus. His humility fuctionally seems for show. His presidency was marked with more failures- Iran hostage recuee, inflation, etc. than any president in my time. He micromanged and missed the big pictures. He takes very narrow views on things where he claims moral rightiousness. I don't look at this man as religious, though he publically prays. His actions always had a bitterness. Just look how he always pursed his lips. Something is going there. No thank you, Jimmy Carter. No thank you.
Go back to farming peanuts, idiot.
You were the ONLY PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES WHO GOT US INTO **DOUBLE-DIGIT** STAGFLATION–an economic condition wherein inflation and economic decline occur at the same time.
Yes, of course, pursed lips ... that's the magic indicator!
There are a lot of reasons not to like Carter's politics, but to attack the man's integrity because of his politics reveals a person insecure in his own. To compound that with ridiculous reasons such as the way his lips looks reveals a person insecure in their own intellect. The world is not black-and-white and good people can disagree. Perhaps what offends you most is that he is leading a faith-based life and you and reaches an opposite conclusion than is your's, specifically as it relates to WWJD?
Carter always struck me as a nice simple minded fellow. He was interesting, but not someone you would want to take seriously as he almost always was in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing. But he meant well.
Simple minded? Wrong place?
A graduate of Annapolis, literally a rocket scientist, a Navy Officer, Governor and President ... yea, he's accomplished nothing.
I saw the picture of Jimmy Carter and I was kinda hoping it was an announcement of him passing away. Should I even feel bad?
"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"
Not out of actual belief? Interesting.
I agree. That almost sounds... Republican!
Carter was saddled with Watergate and OPEC crises after the yum kipper war. Unlike Reagan and unlike Reagan who gave Irianians and Osbama Bin Laden weapons, Carter never did.
It's interesting how people tend to have short-term memories when it comes to issues like that.
There will always be dissagreements..but I judge a person on how he disagrees...intelligently and with no name calling.
We'll bear that in mind in case we ever happen to care how you judge people.
On behalf of all Georgians I'd like to apologize, we are still investigating how he managed to get out of the cellar. My Dad says Jimmy Carter is revenge for the Civil War, harhar.
If you owe any apology, it is for acting as if you need to apologize for Jimmy Carter (or as if you are qualified to).
He is a good example of what a true American should be like. I am an independent voter, yet very conservative, but I am very proud of him and his wife too. May the Lord reward you for all of your kindness and good humanitarian work you do for others.
He's already been rewarded with fame and fortune. There are no future rewards because there are no gods.
GOD, HIS Sons and Daughters will never reward us upon our current state(s) of existence. One's reward is given when we die and are placed upon the Judgment seat." WHERE DOES ONE SAY AS TO WHERE EXACTLY IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD LOCATED" WILL BE OUR FIRST QUESTION TO ANSWER!!!! CAREFUL WHAT U ANSWER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Edwardo and pipedreamer represent to sides to the dogmatic coin. Neither of you know the the F you are saying. Just stating your belief system, or faith.
he inherited great wealth. he was born into it. he did not achieve it. or show any ability to innovate new ideas or success for our country.
Jimmy Carter is the best ex-president the nation has had. He has promoted peace, enviornmental and humantiarian causes, handled difficult negotiations, and has conducted himself in a Christian manor. He is a credit to our Country and to the State of Georgia, to his family.
Republicans are the last people you should look to for Christ-like behavior.
As compared to whom? The Democrats? Dems don't even know the meaning of integrity or self-sacrifice. The only behavior libs understand is whining. That and holding their hands out for the next government giveaway.
Maybe Jimmy Carter is trying to atone for giving America double digit inflation AND double digit unemployment during his presidency. Anybody remember those days? There would be like 5 price stickers stacked on a can of soup and the one on top had the highest price. His foreign policy was great but he kind of left his domestic policy sitting on the back burner too long.
His foreign stunk. Thats why we as a nation were held host for over a year, just watching on TV the Iranians gloat over their victory over us.
James G – I guess you and I will have to agree to differ, but I'll always look upon the Camp David Accords as something special – it led to a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. We could sure use former President Carter's negotiating skills now (with all due respect to President Obama).
Most religious sects espouse their superiority over other sects. I belong to a religion that accepts every other religions, sects, athiests, and agnostics. It's called the Baha'i faith. I just got tired of people of different religions putting other people down and trying to control their lives. Does auto da fe ring a bell? This world is becoming more and more crowded and people are going to have to learn to live together. Jimmy Carter is one man who has practiced what he preaches. Habitat for Humanity, even helping mediate spats between two countries. Even Isreal and Egypt...
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, truly set the example for us. He refused to get involved in the politics of this world and encouraged his disciples to do the same. (John 6:15, John 17:16) He showed that the only true hope to bring a world of unity and solve mankind's problems is the KIngdom of God. (Matthew 6:10, Matt.4:23, Luke 8:1, etc.)
How good a President he was is debatable but in hindsight we can say he was atleast better than Reagan. Reagan was a brain dead actor who replaced the Soviet Union with a bigger disease the Taliban and even said that deficits dont matter saying.
You must be from another planet the way you think.
Calvin, did you live through the 80s? OK, did you live through the 80s anywhere but on Wall Street?
How the Holy Bleep is the Taliban a more serious threat than the Soviet Union? Really, a bunch of schmucks manage to land some sucker punches while we weren't looking. Now I kinda thought Reagan was a bit crazy , and treated nuclear war a bit too flippantly (remember him declaring war on Russia in jest? on the radio?).. I'll take terrorists over a Cold War any day of the week. Terrorists don't even register as a blip compared to knowing that you could be one stupid person away from getting nuked. Go read up on Stanislav Petrov or Able Archer..
We hurt ourselves by overreacting to terrorism than terrorism hurts us. The Taliban is an impotent threat, and I don't lose any sleep worrying about their threats.
I always loved and respected Jimmy Carter regardless of what some of his critics may have said about him. He is a good Christian person, at least he appears to be one, who tries to help all people, both rich and poor. He has the best ethics of all the presidents ever. I am not saying that he was the or is the greatest president, but he did an OK job. I am just thinking!
Jimmy Carter is another major milestone in U.S. and international political mistakes.
Next to Carter, Obama looks like a ... well... never mind.
Why is CNN's belief blog censoring my comments, with no profanity whatsoever?
Because the editorial staff all agree that you totally suck lol!
A Presidents that walks his Christian talk, Is even a former captain of a nuclear submarine! Mr. Carter also has one of the highest IQ's of our Presidents. Have no idea how he keeps up at his age but may he keep up the good fight!
Funny how history and perception can differ so much. I was no fan of his presidency, but I will say this about Carter: he never gave the Iranian revolutionaries JACK SQUAT. Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, gave them weapons (illegally) to free a handful of hostages Iran had taken in Lebanon. Reagan caved to the terrorists; Carter did not. Yet, it's Reagan who is perceived as the "tough guy." Go figure.
yep. republicans are blinded by bigoted hatred. hopefully they all die of irritable bowel syndrome.
Yes Sir. Former P. R. R. was an actor. He also had one major quality that P. J. Carter did not have, dishonesty and lack of regard for the average person. If there is any thought to be processed please examine what P. Carter has done and is doing after leaving the white house. Because he is not a greedy man he never forged the friendships in DC's Political arena. It was J. Carter who negotiated the release of the hostages, it is known today that this was kept secret and only released after R.R. was in office. Go figure,
No problem, I like your blog. Wow I am rlleay not sure who that one is more cruel to, Suzie! I mean that is downright horrible to think about. Oh God. And what about offspring !!!!I have to go wash my mind out with soap now
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.