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.
CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories
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.
We are depending on foreign oil. If it wasn’t for oil, we wouldn’t be in 2 gulf wars, 1 Afghanistan. Carter was way ahead of us, at least 30 years ahead. Why US is not energy independent without depending on rogue middle-east ?
Why US is not the world leader in renewable energy and we do not have tens of millions of well paying jobs in clean energy ?
Why US does not run a huge trade surplus exporting high technology green energy products instead of running an unsustainable trade deficit importing oil from terrorist sponsors ?
Why all the rest of the world have to blame US as an "environment rapist" for being the most irresponsible western nation regarding pollution and greenhouse emissions?
Due to a single person: REAGAN !
Reagan was not single; he was married. Twice, in fact.
When I said single means not as unmarried. Read carefully, dude. LOL.
Like we don't have way too many of those already. Pile on more useless superstion to burden us.
Might I suggest, my brethrens, that this brethren's spry condition and mental agility even at his advanced age, are due less to his faith than to the marvelous effects of that humble yet regal foodstuff–the mighty peanut? Hmmm?
Georgie, I eat peanut butter every day and I plan to live to be 100.
Fiscally conservative. A great president.
I am uninterested in the musings of any adult with an imaginary friend – not even if he was once the President of the United States. I wouldn't be able to take any of it seriously, anyway.
I see no one holding a gun to your head. You are free not to believe. Why do you waste your time here? Or are you one of those "evangelistic" types who takes every opportunity possible to try to "convert" people?
Bruce, it seems getting adults not to believe in dangerous fantasies is probably a worthwhile pursuit. I read the article, not because I'm interested in converting people, but because I have a lot of respect for President Carter despite his faith. In the U.S. he's the minority who uses his beliefs to drive him to help people rather than control them.
WHO CHANGED THE WORDAGE IN THE LORD'S PRAYER? It use to be "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" but is now said as "Forgive us our tresspases as we forgive those who tresspass against us",,,,,,,
Apparently, someone who believed in deficit spending but was soft on illegal immigration.
Jimmy Carter is a great man. As president, he told the truth, obeyed the law, and spent the country's money wisely. Three things Ronald Reagan never manged to do.
All I remember is "malaise" and 20 percent inflation. I keep hearing how great he was. I remember being demoralized by a man who tried to impress us by wearing a turtleneck sweater in the White House. I also remember giving the Panama Canal away.
I remember the double digit inflation that Carter inherited from the Nixon years and the oil fiasco he inherited and the vast problems in the Middle East he inherited. He got blamed for the stuff he didn't cause because so many of my fellow Americans make stupid look genius.
The peak inflation was 14.8%. Way too high but not 20%. This was partly due to high gas prices which no president can control. Two thirds of the Senate ratified the Panama Canal Treaty including nearly half of the Republicans so Carter didn't "give it away". Negotiations for giving control of the treaty back to Panama had been ongoing for 15 years. Nixon and Kissinger had negotiated treaties to turn the canal back to Panama as well so it had bipartisan support. The reasons are too numerous to get into here but everything is OK as far as I can tell. We still have access and Panama is a much more stable country.
Carter is the man who caused 1979 Iranian Revolution
I'm no fan of Carter, but he didn't cause it. The US did that decades earlier when they helped depose the elected leader of Iran and re-installed the Shah and his family as leaders there. British Petroleum was in that also. We need to keep this off Mr. Carter's list.
No, it was Eisenhower. It was during his administration that the CIA overthrew the DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED government of Mohammad Mossadegh, setting in motion a whole chain of events that eventually led to the Iranian revolution.
Instead of killing each other, it's best to launch 'Cold wars.' Like how cultural wars are fought in the United States: 'Let's tolerate each others beliefs, while the nut jobs of our tribe work tirelessly to convert the feeble minded' by employing subliminal messages, threatening heathens in means that are not provable, expressing confidence regarding their blind allegiance to their Master, decorating themselves and their cars, and employing the best weapon at their disposal - declaring "Join us or burn for eternity" in a fashion to hint that the burden of proof is on the nonbeliever, when in reality the probability of the wacko's beliefs to be on target are just as likely to be true as any idea imaginable without evidence.
Carter's Presidency was the beginning on the end for the housing market. He is not very faithful to his faith either. God said that we were to stand with his chosen people the Jews. Carter did everything he could to undermine the Jewish State with the Palestinians.
He did everything in his power to bring the state of Israel to peace but it became luminously clear that Israel wants nothing to do with peace so Carter told the world the truth about them. You don't like the truth.
You're right , Harvey. It will be interesting to see what he said about Israel in his commentary. I won't buy it though. I'll just look up relevant passages in the book store and see what the hypocrite has to say now.
Why, because he told the truth about the ZIO infested Israeli crimes?
How come the libs aren't in a twist that carter reads the bible?
Because he doesn't try to cram it down our throats and instill it in our government.
Did you not get the part where Carter beleives in a complete separation of church and state? that's why. believe what you will. Read what you want. But religion and liberty are truly oppossing concepts if religion is fused with government.
Because he didn't believe it that much.
Jimmy Carter was a good president. Not at all like the cowardly warmongering leadership that we have today. I wonder what would happen if the poor of our country simply stopped enlisting to fight the wars of the wealthy. What would happen if the poor and the lower middle class simply stopped enlisting in the ranks of our combat armed police forces. I wonder. I wonder whether it would delay the coming third and final global nuclear conflagration. I wonder often lately.
Then they would be forced to bring back the draft and defer their own sons from serving. Sort of like Vietnam.
Don Juanna C the End? When we (USA) stop paying our debt to China is but the End's Beginning,,,,, :-(
The draft would be brought back. I would much rather fight our enemies on their land than ours. And Don I have every right to say that as I was one of the lower middle class you speak of before I enlisted in the Army and spent 20 years in the defense of this country.
They draft them dear, that's what happens when they won't enlist. Just like Vietnam, when no one was enlisting.
Wonder all you want Don, but here is the true reality. The poor are not educated to see the truth. The poor are pawns in the military/industrial complex and its money making schemes to make money at the blood of the poor under the guise of freedom. IIn the animal kingdom is eat or be eaten,in the human world is acquire wealth or be used by the poor, to be consumed. You will NEVER see this change for this is human behavior since the beginning of civilization. The poor are all expendable and the hands of rich, but it is never spoken or admitted to. All of the soldiers who have gone to our foreign conflicts in the last 45 years to other countries have been pawns used to strengthen the military/industrial complex to make their blood money. Wake up to this fact! One administration after another has supported this policy, nothing is going to change regardless of who is elected.
If you think Carter was good you are to young to remember. He was the weekest yuk to ever be elected... Then there was Obama...
Really glad President Carter is no longer a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. Theological moderate & liberal baptists, like Carter, have little influence in the broader culture.
That's because the "broader culture" is a bunch of theocratic fascists.
I am glad I am not Southern Baptist any longer also.
What's wrong with being a moderate? At least moderates can see both sides of an argument, instead of blind adherence to dogma.
Seeing as the comparison between Obama and Carter are now evident, I can see why CNN is trying to make Carter seem better than he is. Where is his religion when he slanders Jews and praises Hamas terrorists? Come to think of it, that's exactly what Obama does. What did he say about the Muslim Brotherhood? Didn't he give a speech in Cairo? He hasn't set foot in Jerusalem but seeing as its an election year i am sure that's on his schedule. I guess the comparisons are accurate. And lets not forget, Carter gave away the Panama Canal.
It never belonged to us in the first place.
I see a great resemblance between the two men. I remember the Carter years well, there was always a sense that the job was just too much for Carter to handle, and, in a nutshell, that's exactly how I feel about Obama. Although with Carter it wasn't deliberate, with Obama it is, so much emphasis on the political in every situation, that policy always takes second place.
You sound like a parody of what we've come to recognize as the apocryphal right, but you ACTUALLY believe this tripe. Indeed, modern American conservatism has become something for the psychiatrists to ponder.... .
Yea he's about as christian as Obama. They are like a tag team from hell.
Israel created Hamas, you should blame the Israeli ZIO criminals.
A great man who was a victim of bad timing in the wake of the financial crisis brought on by the Nixon years. The greatest of all ex-presidents, this man has done more to help his fellow man than ALL ex-presidents of my lifetime COMBINED.
Blaming Nixon is like still blaming Bush. Carter destroyed our economy all by himself.
You are right. Blaming Nixon is INDEED like blaming Bush. The truth hurts and you don't want to face the truth because then you would have to question your entire existence.
Still blaming Bush??? Blaming Nixon AND Bush are not activities worthy of ever ending.
The second worst President in U.S. history. Barack ("Algae as an alternative fuel!") Obama is most definitely the worst.
I bet you think George W. Bush was a great president, don't you?
Chevron's been touting algae research for a lot longer than Obama's been president.
The worst President was George W. Bush...easily. Bush got us involved in 2 wars needlessly and destroyed our economy to the point it is taking years to recover.
I wouldn't consider Obama....near the top or the bottom on the list. In fact, it will be hard to measure Obama even if he's re-elected. Unfortunately, Congress is so partisan now that I think it will be impossible for him to get anything major done.
On the other hand, I'm terrified of what another Republican president would do given the influence of Grover Norquist and the Tea-Baggers.
Carter on the other hand is a mix. Carter is and was by far the most religious, by far the most moral President for at least 150 years. Carter had some failures and some mistakes. But he also had some great accomplishments as well.
Personally I think President Carter is the finest man I've ever known. He's kind, loving and takes his faith very seriously. II can still remember vividly to this day the few times I spoke to him.
I disagreed with some of his policies, but you could never question his motives.
You are from Texas I assume, that explains it.
What a crappy president he was.
I think that Carter's faith is unquestioned, but I would now like to see him come out in the United States in favor of Voter ID. He travelled all over the world to help ensure fair elections in third world countries, his silence now in the face of opposition to many of our states trying to do the same for US citizens is a mystery to me.
Maybe he doesn't have enough time to work on every single fucking issue in the world? Is that possible?
Voter fraud is not a problem in this country. Voter suppression, conducted by Republicans, along with their wealthy allies, want to keep the poor and minority citizens of this nation away from the polls.
Voter ID should not be required because Voter fraud is not a problem.The push for Voter ID is really a push for voter suppression.
His faith isn't in question, but what or who his faith is in is. What a joke, of all people to have anything to do with the Bible.
Prayer changes things .
Prayer changes nothing. Crap in one hand and pray to other, see which gets filled first.
...it perpetuates the delusion.
Preachers beggin the congregations for money/gifts/seeds and promoting prayerfilled seances are nuthin but religious pushers of the falsness of proclaiming themselves a true and righteous Jimmy Come Lately. My aunt was jiggled out of her wholelife savings by a religious nutcase!
Prayer changes things,
In the Advertising business there a 3 groups you always get cash up front from, Politicians, Rock bands & Religion. All 3 will try their hardest to bilk you on the bill.
Religion is your narcotic.
Prayer is nothing but wishing for god to change his divine plan to suit your own needs. How selfish of you. If I were god, I'd be offended.
Aside from coincidence, surely you've noticed that "God's plan" always takes precedence over your prayer, even when your prayer is for the noblest of causes.
"Prayer changes things,
No, it's not.
I have always been a big fan of Jimmy Carter. I doubt I'll be reading his Bible study guide anytime soon, but his faith always seemed sincere, personal, and non-threatening. Today's politicians (thanks to the religious right) are just the opposite, their faith is waved in the public's faces, its sincerity is dubious, and is used to push alarming political agendas.
I agree with you that Jimmy Carter's faith seems sincere, non-threatening and influences his actions in a positive way. I think you are being a little unfair in grouping all modern politicians together as being insincere and too outspoken on faith. Pres Obama doesn't wear his religion on his sleeve, and neither does Mitt Romney, Harry Reid, Joe Lieberman, or John McCain. There are plenty of religious people in public office whose faith influences their actions much like Jimmy Carter's.
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.