Jimmy Carter: A President Whose Christian Faith Shines

Jimmy Carter: A President Whose Christian Faith Shines February 20, 2023

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter tries to comfort six-year-old Ruhama Issah at Savelugu Hospita
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter tries to comfort six-year-old Ruhama Issah at Savelugu Hospital in Savelugu, Ghana, as a Carter Center technical assistant dresses Issah’s extremely painful Guinea worm wound. The center, which President Carter founded, partners with Emory University to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health around the world. The photo was taken in 2007. (Photo courtesy of The Carter Center.)

Former President Jimmy Carter, 98, has lived a remarkable life in which his faith has been front and center. As he nears the end of his life and begins hospice care, Americans should take a moment  to recognize his service to the country and the world.

Carter has lived longer than any previous president and is currently the oldest living president. He has not wasted those years, but we will get to that in a minute.

Switching Gears

My original intent for a Presidents’ Day post was to write an article about the faith or lack of faith of several 21st century presidents. I had posted the companion article to it — “Did Our Earliest Presidents Let Personal Religious Beliefs Influence Their Decisions?” — several days earlier. That post discussed the religious beliefs of the nation’s first four presidents – George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. (Click here to read the post.)

But the moment I heard about President Carter’s health, I switched gears. If any president deserves recognition for his strong Christian faith and service, it is Jimmy Carter.

The former president has not only talked the talk, but also has walked the walk with every step he takes. In my mind, his actions in regard to faith speak louder than any words he could speak.

Separation of Church and State

Yet, we get back to the issue of separation of church and state. It’s an issue that dominated the companion piece to this post.

Despite Carter’s Christian faith or maybe because of it, “not many Americans understand the depth of his belief in the separation of church and state,” according to America Magazine, which is a monthly publication of the Jesuits of the United States, a Catholic organization.

“As president, Mr. Carter struggles sometimes to reconcile his faith with his secular obligations,” the magazine noted in “Jimmy Carter’s Struggle to Separate Church and State.” Abortion was a case in point.

The Supreme Court had legalized abortion three years before Carter took office in 1976. The new president criticized the idea of a constitutional amendment banning abortion, but also opposed federally funded Medicaid abortions.

“But he was never one to impose his personal religious views on anyone else,” the article stated. Read more here.

The United States was founded on religious freedom rather than Christianity, as many conservatives claim. And their belief that we are a “Christian nation” in modern times simply isn’t supported by facts, as the news on any given day demonstrates.

I am strongly Christian as is President Carter, and I agree with him that people in this country should continue to have the right to worship as they choose.

Do I need to remind Christians that making Christianity the national religion could backfire on them in a big way should another religion — namely Islam — become dominate? And it could happen in the next hundred years.

Do they want their descendants to live in an America where they must become Muslim? I strongly doubt that anti-Muslim Christians want that to happen.

The Many Faces of Faith

Faith is a deeply personal matter. One person can never really know for certain the depth of another person’s faith. All we can do is look for signs of their beliefs in their actions and listen to their words.

In his book, Faith: A Journey for All published in 2018, President Carter shared some of the lessons he has learned about faith in his long life. “The issue of faith arises in almost every area of human existence, so it is important to understand its multiple meanings,” he wrote.

“In the book, my primary goal is to explore the broader meaning of faith, its far-reaching effect on our lives, and its relationship to the past, present, and future events in American around the world.” Click here and select “Excerpt.”

Carter explained that the word “faith” has many meanings but is typically considered as it relates to religion. He cited stories of several people mentioned in Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy scripture.

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going….By faith even (his wife) Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who made the promise,” Carter wrote. God, of course, made those promises.

“By faith [Moses] left Egypt, not fearing the king’s answer; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible (again, God),” the former president added. The story of Moses tells us how God used Moses to lead the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt and toward the promised land.

The Loss of Faith in America

The former president, whose service to the country and the world deserves recognition, said he is troubled that Americans no longer have a different kind of faith. It’s the faith they once had in the futures of their children. In Faith: A Journey for All, he also cited the fact that Americans’ confidence in elected leaders has deteriorated. We also have lost faith in one another, he noted.

“Many of our citizens have also lost faith in other ‘principles that never change,’ including truth, equality and goodwill. These issues of are great concern to me as I enter the last stages of my life.”

But he also retains some optimism. “My faith is the key to my optimism. It is important to understand what it means, because faith is involved in almost every aspect of our lives. Read more here.

“Faith is always a living thing,” he added. For Carter, the most important example of faith in his life is the marriage vows he and Rosalynn exchanged many years ago.

“We both took an oath before God ‘to have and to hold from this day forward’…. Fortunately, our continuing love and faith in each other has made it possible to honor those pledges despite many differences and challenges.”

How refreshing to read the former president’s words. They remind us that the world still has good, honorable and decent leaders whose service to the country and the world needs recognition. I’m a former journalist who’s been guilty of focusing on the negative, but it saddens me that it happens.

Carter’s service is huge given the scandals, illegal activities and immoral lifestyles of some of our elected officials past and present. Sometimes, it seems to me that he’s one of a kind. I hope I’m wrong.

Living His Faith

Carter has lived his faith throughout his life. One way has been teaching Sunday school for many decades. It’s doubtful that a person with an insincere faith would continue teaching the Christian faith for decade after decade.

“When I teach Sunday school, people come from all over the world to hear my Sunday school lesson, and they come from not only every country in the world, but also they come from every faith.

“So, we’ve got Buddhists and Muslims and Jews, as well as Christians, Protestants and Catholics,” he told the Nashville Tennessee when he was in town for a Habitat for Humanity build several years ago.

Habitat for Humanity is another way that Carter lives his faith. “One of the best ways to practice my faith as a Christian is to participate in Habitat like this every year,” he said. “I think that’s the easiest way for rich people like us to reach out to people in need and work with them equally on the Habitat site.”

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization that helps people around the world repair or build affordable homes. It was founded 1976.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter did not create Habitat, but they have made millions of people aware of its work through their Carter Work Projects. They participated in Habitat builds for more than 30 years beginning in 1984 and stopped only when they were physically unable to continue.

Mutual Respect. Giving Back. Selflessness. 

The Tennessean story noted that “we again live in a largely faithless time. We do not trust each other. We do not trust our leaders. We do not trust many of our social institutions…. Carter’s faith is something Americans need again.

“Mutual respect. Giving back. Selflessness. These are words that we need to hear right now, regardless of our politics, or our religion, or any other divisive topic in our society,” the newspaper added.

“America did not want Jimmy Carter as president anymore in 1980,” it continued. “It doesn’t really matter whether we agree on whether that was a good or bad thing, but through using the platform he derives from having once been our president, Carter has shown us why he is still valuable to us. He never gave up on us as a people. He never lost his faith.”

Thank you, Mr. President

For that and much more, I want to say: Thank you, Mr. President, for your service to the nation and the world, your determination to do your duty even when it clashes with your personal beliefs, and the example you have set for people everywhere. You have served with strong faith and a determination to make a difference in the world.

About Ginny Baxter
Ginny Baxter is a former journalist and public relations professional whose passion is writing. A graduate of Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, Ginny majored in English with a focus on journalism. She later studied public relations at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She comes from a progressive Christian family and has been an active church member since childhood. You can read more about the author here.

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