Former President Jimmy Carter has been called American's most famous Sunday school teacher for a reason. The former commander-in-chief just finished his 561st lesson at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. Carter recently condensed those lessons into a 366-day devotional, Through the Year with Jimmy Carter, and the NIV Lessons from Life Bible (Zondervan). The nation's 39th President spoke with Christianity Today about how his personal faith contributed to his time in office and beyond.
In what ways did faith impact your presidency?
I've always been fully committed to separation of church and state. I didn't permit worship services in the White House as had been done earlier. I was careful not ever to promote my own Christianity as superior in America to other religions, because I feel all religious believers should be treated carefully. At the same time, there's no way I could ever separate my Christian belief from my obligations as a naval officer, as a governor or as President, or from my work now. I can't say my commitments as President were free of my beliefs. We worship the Prince of Peace, and one of the key elements of my life as President in challenging times was to keep our country peaceful. I was able to deal with challenges without launching a missile or dropping a bomb. My commitment to peace was an aspect of my Christian faith. Also, basic human rights are obviously compatible with the teachings of Jesus Christ, and I made human rights a foundation of foreign policy.
You wrote that you made every effort to keep a pledge that you would not lie. "Still, I was not able to keep 100 percent of my campaign promises," you said. Did you have disappointments or regrets about your presidency?
When you're campaigning, you don't really have an awareness of the limitations of a President in dealing with Congress. Sometimes I made promises, but I had four years instead of an anticipated eight years. I never did violate my promise to tell the truth. I've been asked if there was ever any incompatibility between my duties as President and my duties as a Christian. There was one thing that bothered me and that was the issue of abortion. I've never believed Jesus Christ would approve of abortion except when the mother's life is in danger or as a result of incest or rape. Of course, the Supreme Court ruled differently. Within the ruling, I tried to minimize abortion as best I could. On the issue of abortion my beliefs are contradictory to what the Supreme Court ruled.
From a policy standpoint, some have suggested you didn't do enough on abortion.
I did everything I could to limit abortions as President. One of the major causes of abortion is when the prospective mother doesn't believe she and her child will be adequately cared for. I instituted a program to provide care and provisions for women and children. I also tried to make the law easier so a mother who was faced with childbirth could arrange for adoption.
In the current election, the candidates all appear to be personally religious but are focusing on the economy. Does this mean anything for the future of evangelicals in politics?
The overwhelming commitment of a government is to provide justice and equality of opportunity for people. This meant to me that we should favor poor people, those who are deprived, instead of the richest and most powerful people. Governance should be designed as an equalizer. Democrats are more inclined towards working families and those who are struggling for a better life.