Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Jimmy Carter and Biblical Christianity

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”Matthew 5:11-12
Jimmy Carter has probably endured more ridicule than any other living President of the United States. He is the punch line of a thousand jokes.

One of the things I admire about him is that he doesn’t seem to care. Not caring what people think about you is not a helpful character trait in a politician. And the truth is that he never was a very good politician. But he is a remarkably faithful Christian. His statements and actions seem odd to many political commentators because Christianity is at odds with popular politics and culture.

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Senior Religion Editor for the Huffington Post, and great grandson of Walter Rauschenbusch, one of the greatest leaders of the Social Gospel, recently interviews President Carter about his new book, “NIV Lessons from Life Bible: Personal Reflections with Jimmy Carter.” I want to share two of those exchanges.

When asked about whether gays and lesbians should be accepted in the church, he gave a direct, yet measured response:

“Homosexuality was well known in the ancient world, well before Christ was born and Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. In all of his teachings about multiple things -– he never said that gay people should be condemned. I personally think it is very fine for gay people to be married in civil ceremonies.

“I draw the line, maybe arbitrarily, in requiring by law that churches must marry people. I’m a Baptist, and I believe that each congregation is autonomous and can govern its own affairs. So if a local Baptist church wants to accept gay members on an equal basis, which my church does by the way, then that is fine. If a church decides not to, then government laws shouldn’t require them to.”
In another exchange, Raushenbush noted President Carter’s commitment to peacemaking, and then asked how he interpreted Jesus’ declaration that he came, “not to bring peace, but a sword.” Carter responded:

“For the last 35 or more years, my wife and I have read the Bible last thing every night and just last week we read that passage and discussed it a little bit. . . . He was predicting what would happen, that his teachings might cause divisions among people as they decided to follow God’s ordained duties such as peace, humility, service to others, alleviation of suffering, forgiveness -- when we face those conflicts, we should adhere to the principles that never change, to the moral values that are taught through religion.”
Peace, humility, service to others, alleviation of suffering, forgiveness—those are not qualities that we often find in our leaders. And when we find them, we do not value them.

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