America’s first ladies may use their time in the White House in whatever way they wish (within reason, of course). Their husbands hold a constitutional office with specific job requirements, but they do not. These women continue to enjoy that freedom of choice after leaving Washington. Some former first ladies have done little, while others – such as Rosalynn Carter – accomplished a great deal. In Carter’s case, the accomplishments were rooted in a deep and genuine faith.
Carter died on Nov. 19 at age 96, and several services are being held this week to memorialize her. What are people saying about the former first lady?
A Global Humanitarian
Some people are praising her work as a global humanitarian and advocate for mental health-related causes. Others are remembering her steadfast support of human rights and women’s rights. Still others are recognizing her work with Habitat for Humanity, which has been called a non-profit organization with “clear Christian priorities.” Some praise Carter’s advocacy of the performing arts, early childhood immunizations, and caregiving.
A great deal has been written about Rosalynn Carter’s involvement in these causes, and I will touch on them. But my main focus in this post is her deep and genuine faith.
Real Faith in an Alice-in-Wonderland World
Today’s Alice-in-Wonderland world is a place where up is down, wrong is right, and some people worship the golden statue of a disgraced politician rather than bow their heads to the one true God of everything. In such circumstances, Rosalynn Carter’s deep and genuine faith was refreshing. And I do believe it was genuine.
It may be impossible for one person to fully know the heart of another person. Yet, from a distance, I see the former first lady as someone who loved God deeply and lived her faith throughout her 96 years on earth.
Had that faith been fraudulent, the truth would have slipped out at some point in her long life. Instead, the world and the people around her saw a woman who had strong faith and deep love for her family and church.
Carter was born in Plains, Georgia, in 1927 and grew up Methodist. In 1946, she married a young man from Plains named Jimmy Carter, who was two years her senior.
As was the custom in mid-20th century southern America, Carter joined the church her husband attended, which was Baptist in this case. In her new denomination, she became an active lay leader and eventually a deacon.
Carter taught Sunday School and founded the Maranatha Baptist Church’s food ministry. The ministry currently provides thousands of pounds of food to hundreds of local families every month, according to the church.
She became an ordained deacon in 2006.
From Deployments to Humanitarianism
In the early years of their marriage, the Carters were a military couple who lived in Virginia, Hawaii, Connecticut, New York, and California during the former president’s various military deployments.
The Carters were the first family of Georgia from 1971-1975 and moved into the White House in 1977 after Jimmy Carter’s election to the presidency. He served one term, after which the couple spent their extraordinary post-presidential years as humanitarians.
They supported human rights and women’s rights, built homes with low-income families through Habitat for Humanity, supported early childhood immunizations, and advocated on behalf of unpaid caregivers, among other things.
A Deep and Genuine Faith
“It is impossible to write about the Carters without paying some attention to the topics that mattered the most to them, as opposed to the subjects that matter the most to political-desk journalists,” said Terry Mattingly in his opinion piece, Dear Associated Press editors: The Story of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Includes Lots of Faith, for the “get religion” website. (Read the entire post here.)
“If you know lots of people who have followed the Carters for decades… you know the role that their evolving, progressive Baptist convictions played in their story…. Much of the Carter coverage today is starkly secular and faith-free. How is that possible?” he asked.
Mattingly explained that former President Carter has always described his life in terms of his wife Rosalynn, their shared Christian faith, community service, and the Bible. “In his mind, these subjects are linked. Could someone please pass that information on to the political-desk editors of the Associated Press.”
I would guess that similar subjects were linked in Rosalynn Carter’s mind as well.
Condolences & Love
Several people talked about love and faith in their condolence letters to the former president.
In his letter, Catholic Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer of Atlanta wrote, “Your love for one another in good times, as well as difficult ones, is a testimony to your faith in God and one another.”
President and Mrs. Biden said, “She lived her life by her faith. Time and time again, during the more than four decades of our friendship – through the rigors of campaigns, through the darkness of deep and profound loss – we always felt the hope, warmth, and optimism of Rosalynn Carter….
“First Lady Rosalynn Carter walked her own path, inspiring a nation and the world along the way,” the Bidens wrote. “Throughout her incredible life as First Lady of Georgia and the First Lady of the United States, Rosalynn did so much to address many of society’s greatest needs.
“She was a champion for equal rights and opportunities for women and girls; an advocate for mental health and wellness for every person; and a supporter of the often unseen and uncompensated caregivers of our children, aging loved ones, and people with disabilities.” The Carters’ “humble leadership is the definition of patriotism.”
A Different Kind of Faith
The type of faith that Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter shared is a far cry from the faith – if you want to call it that — of right-wing extremists whose hearts are filled with hatred rather than God’s love.
“Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter offer a different model of living out Christian faith, one that refuses the shackles of political ideologies, and one that expresses love by seeking justice for all men and women,” Jon Young, PhD, a retired religious studies professor, said earlier this week.
Another person who shared her thoughts about the former first lady was a nurse who drove from her home in Texas to Georgia. She praised the former first lady as someone who “just quietly went about the business of trying to make the world a better place. You know, she was not a showy or extravagant first lady, but she was humble, you know, kind, hardworking, and got things done for people because she cared about people.”
Living Their Lives to the Fullest
Jimmy Carter expressed a few thoughts about his wife some two years ago: “For me, as Rosalynn and I approach our 75th wedding anniversary coming up in July, my home is wherever she is, whether in South Georgia or South Sudan. Holding her hand, reading our Bible together each night, falling asleep next to her, that is my home.”
At another time, he praised her for giving “me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me.”
Though married for more than 77 years, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter were “still holding hands” in the final chapter of their lives, grandson Josh Carter recently told “People” magazine. “They have lived their lives to the fullest.”