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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. Don'tBelieveTheLiesOfReligion

    Faith is the refuge of the person who is unwilling to face reality and admit that he/she doesn't know the "answer" to what everyone would consider the essential questions of their lives. How any particular tradition of faith-based fantasy is supposed to be a guide to running the country is beyond me. Seems like we ought to just elect the next guy we find yelling at the sky on a street corner. Jimmy was a poor president. Interest rates ranged in the low 20% range during his time in office and the economy suffered from high inflation. He should have stayed on the peanut farm, read his book of fantasy, and left the country alone. BTW, the charitable things hes' done in his life are commendable but don't require a theology to do.

    March 17, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • alfranken

      What blather

      March 17, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Nick Rick

      First off, faith and religion are two different things. Second, what separates man from a monkey is the belief in things he cannot see nor prove, and the ability to think outside of the physical world which he can see, and the ability to reason abstractly. Now, I am sorry that you, like a monkey, think you have it all figured out. But let me break it to you. You don't. Many people have tried to run countries who had no faith. I can name a few, Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, and also Adolf Hitler (he worshipped a certain form of Darwinism, called Eugenics). So, I am sorry but if there is one sure thing it is that a lack of faith is for sure a lack of human compassion at your core.

      March 17, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • mandarax

      Nick Rick, I am so tired of hearing that crap about atheist leaders. It is logically unsound on so many levels, and surely you know that, that it's not worth dismantling. But it sure is tedious to keep hearing it.

      March 18, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  2. Fred

    Jimmy Carter was the best President.

    March 17, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  3. alfranken

    Too Christ-like to be an effective politician which requires you to be a complete liar with a straight face with a high degree of corruption. He's way ahead of his time with his policies and way behind his time in morals - back when that mattered.

    He is probably the last moral president, with maybe the exception of Reagan, we will ever have.

    ( Bush Sr. was wise with high moral standards as well so I may be wroing - but his son was the biggest dope ever)

    He'll be remembered as one of our more mediocre presidents until our future ills catch up to the wisdom of his legacy as a regrettable reminder of our arrogant foolishness for ignoring his example of humanity.

    Today, he is only known as the greatest ex-president of a statesman but for future generations to come, he'll be known as one of the greatest "true" Christian presidents ever.

    His legacy will continue to be tempered with glory through time with greatness.

    God bless him

    March 17, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Nick Rick

      He was a bit too nice to be the leader of an imperialistic country of pagan, money worshipping xenophobes.

      March 17, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  4. jack brown

    Worst president in america history, hows that for a legacy? Sucks to be him

    March 17, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • ErieVern

      The good news for Carter is that Obama may go down as the worst.

      Time will tell.

      March 17, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • George

      Have you heard of Hoover?

      March 17, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Nick Rick

      Who is claiming Carter was the worst? Have you heard of Nixon, the criminal, or George W. Bush? Pretty sure in 50 years they will still be talking about the criminal republicans like Nixon, a real crook who had to resign or face a trial. He was pardoned, you know otherwise he might have gone to jail. What kind of party is that? A party of criminals.

      March 17, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  5. DanMark

    How ironic that the president who best articulated the ethical framework of evangelical Christianity in the political sphere was summarily abandoned by most American evangelical Christians. Now the good name of Jesus is used by many of those same evangelical Americans to sanction policies that favor the wealthy, promote war, and ignore human rights. The Christian agenda in politics has not since been as trustworthy as it was in Carter's time.

    March 17, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • Tacitus Talks

      Because he was a phony that believed in a social council. one of the teachings of Christ is a warning against wolves in sheep's clothing.

      March 17, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  6. Daniel Medrano

    You know I categorized President Carter as the President with the highest intergrity of all our Presidents. That said, I remember the sour state of affairs during his presidency. After his presidency, while his intentions remain good, I question his opinions and actions. True, one can see they are not evenly applied. Very questionable indeed! I wouldn't run to buy his religious thoughts because i do not believe he is even handed in their application. Some of the comments above have stated my thoughts already. I strongly disagree with the fellow's use of the four letter progressive expresion and am surprised it wasn't edited out. I will tell you this: "when President Nixon lost the election of 1960, had Voter ID been in effect, those dead voters or their clones or whichever concoction those Texans came up with would never have made it to the polls. While President Carter rates at the top of my list when it comes to intergrity, Johnson was the crookediest (yes I know it is not english, but you are getting the message, by the way neither is ain't, but it is now) individual we ever had for President. Yes, I am aware about the purchase of the office by the Kennedys, thank you very much. We could go on and on but our time is more valuable, mine is anyway.

    March 17, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Wanumba

      Lots of declarations ... any examples of his "uneven handiness?"

      March 17, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  7. a disgrace

    carter was a pretty harmless president

    March 17, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  8. Barrie

    Somehow being religious has enabled Carter to be omniscient as well. He was able to see into the mind of Joe Wilson and state with absolute certainty that the "you lie!" outburst was motivated by racism. What amazing discernment! Carter is far more Godlike that the rest of us mere mortals.

    March 17, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  9. gager

    Carter was an idiot and this raises the question does belief in magic make people stupid or does stupid people believe in magic?

    March 17, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  10. the fertilizer for the peanuts is made of people!!

    It's......PEOPLE!! AAAAAAAAGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

    March 17, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  11. steve-o

    Carter's failures as a President stem from his being too Christian. Bush 2 was anti-Christian/ Read what Jesus says and realize the Republicans are Satan–pure Evil.. I believe that Christians/Jews/Muslims are idiots and need to be treated as such. Vote the anti-religion candidate-most human/decent/most Godly candidate. Religion is for idiots.

    March 17, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Malcom

      And you are a moron. to insult everybody.

      March 17, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  12. dina

    Too much religion in politics and government. This man was a terrible president and is better at being a private citizen although I think he sticks his nose into too many things he shouldn't. Stop all this religious stuff in Washington. Use facts, not religion.

    March 17, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  13. it's kinda funny

    But Jimmy Carter is a better man than Jesus ever was..........

    March 17, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  14. Reality

    ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS:

    Jimmy C,

    For your next Sunday school lesson (and your last obviously if you recite the prayer in class), a prayer:

    ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS:

    From The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (references used are available upon request)

    March 17, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • .....

      Repeat bull sh it alert hit report abuse on all reality garbage

      March 17, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Eric

      Every work à man has made proves his existence your homework tests applications work prove your existence . So look at the work God has done it all proves his existence, if I would look at all your deeds and efforts and accomplishments and would say it was done by chance and coincidence you would be insulted and unappreciated so stop doing that to God

      March 17, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • UncleBenny

      Reality – good summation.

      March 17, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Eric

      Secondly Jesus was born before Joseph consummated the marriage, all wonders were seen and witnessed by thousands showing he was the son of God and nog of Joseph. His grave was secured and locked and guarded and thd grave was empty.His body never found in the days after and hundreds of faithful people saw the resurrected Jesus, thd resurrection is an historical fact , and thd while nation of Israel knee about it at that time, do the grave was empty the guards were told to say the body was stolen and the faithful saw Him. And I heard Him knock on my heart and He taught me to live and believe and He delivered and delivers me of my sins, so I know He is real

      March 17, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Tacitus Talks

      Regurgitation of Aldous Huxley. But I bet you didn't know that. Tacitus in the 1st Century cited the story of the resurrection. i bet you also did not know that. The who problem with Aldous Huxley, was that his scholarship was shoddy. He only took the idea of later Biblical Manuscripts only assuming that the scriptures were written in the late 2nd Century, when there is papyri copies of scripture that go back to 70 AD. In essence, we have a written record. Simon Greenleaf, the father of American Jurisprudence and Father of the "rules of evidence" was an atheist and upon studying the historical, archaeoligical, and written record became a Christan and declared that not only was the existence of Jesus Christ was incontrovertible, but also his resurrection. Are you smarter than Simon Greenleaf?

      March 17, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Reality

      ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS

      Saving Christians from the Infamous Resurrection Con:

      From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

      Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

      To wit;

      From a major Catholic university's theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:

      "Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
      Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

      Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

      Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.

      The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

      Only Luke records it. (Luke mentions it in his gospel and Acts, i.e. a single attestation and therefore historically untenable). The Assumption ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "

      "In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."
      http://eternal-word.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2HEAVN.HTM

      The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.

      With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

      An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,

      p.4

      "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

      p.168. by Ted Peters:

      Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. "

      So where are the bones"? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, covered with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

      March 18, 2012 at 12:55 am |
  15. acbytesla

    I worked on both of Jimmy Carter's elections and during the reelection campaign. I gave speeches on Carter's behalf, and on at least 5 different occasions at churches I was asked why Carter wasn't a Christian.

    It flabbergasted me...because Carter was the most visible Christian President I had ever known.

    But that's because of his pro-choice..pro-separation of state stances. Probably what I hate most about some of the religious people I've known. That all or nothing position. You're either with them..or your against them.

    March 17, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • VanHagar

      What do you think Jesus would say about an all or nothing position?

      March 17, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  16. Frantz

    Are they, the politicians in every party, using the language of faith to win voters or as an expression of true faith?

    March 17, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  17. really?

    Jiminy Carter really ? One of the worst presidents... What a loser

    March 17, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • manuel rodriguez

      Well ,he clean Castro jail of criminals and mentally ills and brought them over here,he destroyed the sugar market because that big soda company was the biggest money giver to his campaign and millions of sugar field workers in the world starved, when he approved the use of CORN SYRUP instead of sugar on soda starting the obesity problem on this great nation he is going to need many life times to make up.

      March 17, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  18. Butch

    I will never forget the impact the billboard had on me traveling South on I-95 in South Georgia just before the end of Carter's term which read" We, the farmers of Georgia APOLOGIZE for putting Jimmy Carter in the White House"

    March 17, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • alfranken

      subjective propaganda that doesn't emulate the majority of farmers in Georgia paid for by some PAC group that probably doesn't have an iota to do with Georgia. Surely effective if enough stooges take that highway.

      I'll forget about your comment and your billboard as soon as the dinner the bell rings - this is how much it means to me that is how much it means to you.

      March 17, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  19. Don

    Occupy Wall Street has been silenced in this country. They had a good and kindly message to deliver to our would be masters that these masters refuse have to listen to though. Lately our wealthy media families in this country have removed nearly all that could be considered inflamatory to the masses of people in this country. I wonder why. Could it be because the American people have a better short term memory than these families want to believe? I believe that these wealthy individuals and families will do anything in their power to continue to dominate our thoughts and actions even if it means a third and final (nuclear) conflagration. If we carry on just the way we are we will soon have thrown ourselves back roughly 10,000 years. Whatever few scarecrows remain will be too busy avoiding hot pockets in the earth and feeding themselves to concern themselves with learning to read or write. The future is still up to us though on this hell of an earth.

    March 17, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  20. Cheyne

    Loathstheright. I preferto walk with prayer in hand and Loatheright walks with crap in his hand. you stink.

    March 17, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
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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.