March 6, 2023 Editor

Comments On: Jimmy Carter embodies the ‘road not taken’ by many White evangelical Christians

Story by John Blake: He is the author of the forthcoming: More Than I Imagined: What a Black Man Discovered About the White Mother He Never Knew.

March 5, 2023

image above: Jimmy Carter embodies the ‘road not taken’ by many White evangelical Christians
© Provided by CNN: Former President Jimmy Carter with his wife Rosalynn after teaching Sunday school class on December 13, 2015, at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia

WN: While I believe that an overwhelming blind spot (sigh: we all have them!) in Carter’s faith journey was his devotion to militarism–which every Presidential administration embraced since America’s founding–the article highlighted below is nonetheless very heartening about what author John Blake states at the article’s end:

But perhaps he had another agenda: staying true to his faith. . . The road Carter took proved to be the right one for him, and the innumerable people he helped along the way.

I only add that I greatly dislike the term “progressive” in front of “Christian.” To me it connotes an air of superiority–the very last thing Christ exemplified; the very opposite of what Saint Paul calls us to imitate in citing the great Christ Hymn of Philippians 2:1 – 11:

1Therefore if you have any encouragement in Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being united in spirit and purpose.

3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

5Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus:

6Who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped,
7but emptied Himself,
taking the form of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross.
9Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place
and gave Him the name above all names,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

For a post that goes extensively into the “what,” “why,” and “how” of dominant American White Evangelicalism’s abandonment of following Jesus, please see my: Book Review of: Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation 2023/02/15. (I keep adding material to that post, that contains much more than the book review.)

Please also see: His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life. Of it:

From one of America’s most respected journalists and modern historians comes the highly acclaimed, “splendid” (The Washington Post) biography of Jimmy Carter, the thirty-ninth President of the United States and Nobel Prize–winning humanitarian.

Jonathan Alter tells the epic story of an enigmatic man of faith and his improbable journey from barefoot boy to global icon. Alter paints an intimate and surprising portrait of the only president since Thomas Jefferson who can fairly be called a Renaissance Man, a complex figure—ridiculed and later revered—with a piercing intelligence, prickly intensity, and biting wit beneath the patented smile. Here is a moral exemplar for our times, a flawed but underrated president of decency and vision who was committed to telling the truth to the American people.

Growing up in one of the meanest counties in the Jim Crow South, Carter is the only American president who essentially lived in three centuries: his early life on the farm in the 1920s without electricity or running water might as well have been in the nineteenth; his presidency put him at the center of major events in the twentieth; and his efforts on conflict resolution and global health set him on the cutting edge of the challenges of the twenty-first.

“One of the best in a celebrated genre of presidential biography,” (The Washington Post), His Very Best traces how Carter evolved from a timid, bookish child—raised mostly by a Black woman farmhand—into an ambitious naval nuclear engineer writing passionate, never-before-published love letters from sea to his wife and full partner, Rosalynn; a peanut farmer and civic leader whose guilt over staying silent during the civil rights movement and not confronting the white terrorism around him helped power his quest for racial justice at home and abroad; an obscure, born-again governor whose brilliant 1976 campaign demolished the racist wing of the Democratic Party and took him from zero percent to the presidency; a stubborn outsider who failed politically amid the bad economy of the 1970s and the seizure of American hostages in Iran but succeeded in engineering peace between Israel and Egypt, amassing a historic environmental record, moving the government from tokenism to diversity, setting a new global standard for human rights and normalizing relations with China among other unheralded and far-sighted achievements. After leaving office, Carter eradicated diseases, built houses for the poor, and taught Sunday school into his mid-nineties.

This “important, fair-minded, highly readable contribution” (The New York Times Book Review) will change our understanding of perhaps the most misunderstood president in American history.

excerpts:

Carter supported the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed change to the Constitution that would have guaranteed legal equality to women. Former President Ronald Reagan, a White evangelical hero, opposed the amendment, which eventually failed.

That’s the racial slur a White classmate of Carter’s at the US Naval Academy assigned to him right after World War II when the future president befriended the academy’s only Black midshipman.

Carter was called the same racial epithet when he took over his family’s peanut farm in South Georgia during the Jim Crow era. He repeatedly refused to join a segregationist group called the White Citizens’ Council despite threats to boycott his peanut business. A delegation representing the council confronted Carter at his warehouse one day, with one member even offering to pay his five-dollar membership fee.

As one of his biographers has noted, Carter was so angry that he walked over to his cash register, pulled out a five-dollar bill, and declared: “I’ll take this and flush it down the toilet, but I am not going to join the White Citizens’ Council.”

Many people are sharing similar stories about Carter since the 98-year-old former president recently entered hospice care. As tributes to Carter pour in from around the globe, certain themes have emerged: his Christian faith, his childhood friendships with African Americans that shaped his views on race, and the founding of his Carter Center, which has cemented his post-presidency role as a peacemaker and ally of the poor.

His views on abortion have been more nuanced. He has said he’s personally opposed to abortion, but did not campaign to overturn Roe vs. Wade and opposed a proposed Constitutional amendment to invalidate the Roe decision.
But there’s another source of inspiration for Carter that’s been overlooked in many of the tributes – his distinctive brand of White evangelical Christianity, which remains hidden from most Americans.

Carter is a progressive White evangelical Christian. That may seem like an oxymoron, but it shouldn’t. Progressive White evangelicalism was once what one historian called “the ascendant strain of evangelicalism in America.”

Yet Carter quickly fell out with many White evangelicals over issues that have come to define evangelical culture today: public stances on racism, homosexuality, abortion and the separation of church and state.

Today White evangelical Christians are associated, rightly or wrongly, with a conservative set of theological and political stances. Those include opposition to abortion, being the most enthusiastic supporters of a brand of Christian nationalism that seeks to turn the US into a White Christian nation, and championing a former president who boasted about sexually assaulting women.

In 2000, Carter’s differences with contemporary White evangelicalism became so acute that he cut ties with the Southern Baptist Convention1 after it barred women pastors and publicly declared that a woman should “submit herself graciously” to her husband’s leadership.

“I personally feel the Bible says all people are equal in the eyes of God,” he said at the time. “I personally feel that women should play an absolutely equal role in service of Christ in the church.”

“As other evangelicals drifted to the religious right, Carter advocated universal health care, proposed cuts in military spending and denounced the tax code as ‘a welfare program for the rich’,” wrote Betsy Shirley, an editor of Sojourners magazine, in a review of Carter’s book, Faith: A Journey For All.
Yet Carter quickly fell out with many White evangelicals over issues that have come to define evangelical culture today: public stances on racism, homosexuality, abortion and the separation of church and state. To varying degrees, Carter disagreed with conservative White evangelicals on all those issues.

“Many times the one argument that I would find would ruin a person’s case is when he’d say, ‘This is good for you politically,’” [Walter Mondale–his Vice President] said. “He didn’t want to hear that. He didn’t want to think that way and he didn’t want his staff to think that way. He wanted to know what’s right.

During Carter’s presidency, the Internal Revenue Service sought to enforce anti-discrimination laws at all-White Christian schools that many evangelicals had built to defy the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, which declared racially segregated schools unconstitutional, [Randall Balmer, author of “Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter.”] says.

That’s because during the 19th century, White evangelicals led the way on social justice issues. Evangelical leaders like Charles Finney fought against slavery, were active in prison reform, led peace crusades and were crucial in forming public schools to help less affluent children gain social mobility. . .“They were also active in women’s equality, including voting rights, which was a radical idea in the 19th century,” Balmer says.
To enforce the Brown decision, the IRS refused to grant tax-except status to schools like Bob Jones University in South Carolina that practiced racial discrimination, a move that White evangelical leaders unfairly blamed on Carter, Balmer says.

It was White evangelical opposition to racial integration, not abortion, that originally motivated many evangelicals to get involved in politics in the 1970s, Balmer says.

Some religious leaders now say that White evangelicals gained political power butlost their souls by aligning themselves too closely to a political party.

Much of that progressive momentum dissipated, though, when conservatives gained control of the group in 1979 and the large White evangelical community aligned with the Republican Party. White conservative evangelicals eventually gained so much power that their dominance convinced many Americans that the only true evangelicals were conservative. Many forget that progressive White evangelists existed.

Please click on: The ‘road not taken’ by many White evangelical Christians

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Footnotes:
  1. It has often been described as a “bellwether for conservative Christianity.”[]

Editor

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.