President Jimmy Carter
The “NIV Lessons from Life Bible” Interview
with Kam Williams
James Earl Carter, Jr., the 39th President of the United States, was born
on October 1, 1924 in the tiny town of Plains, Georgia. His father, James,
Sr., was a farmer and businessman, and his mother, Lillian Gordy Carter, was
a registered nurse.
Jimmy was educated in the public school of Plains, attended Georgia Southwestern College and the Georgia Institute of Technology, and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1946. On July 7th of that year, he married his childhood sweetheart, Rosalynn Smith of Plains.
Kam Williams: Hi President Carter, I’m really honored to have another opportunity to speak with you.
President Carter: It’s a pleasure for me, too, Kam. Thank you!
KW: Editor/legist Patricia Turnier asks: What message do you think people
will take away from the Lessons from Life Bible?
JC: I think that what people will get out of these comments in the Bible, and also out of my previous book [Through the Year with Jimmy Carter: 366 Daily Meditations from the 39th President] is how pertinent, how important and how applicable the ancient texts are to our modern-day life. That’s what I try to emphasize in all my Sunday school lessons when I teach at Maranatha Baptist Church. So, I think the main message to remember is that we must accommodate changing times while clinging to unchanging moral values. That’s why I say the aim is to apply the text to modern-day life.
KW: Patricia also asks: Are you interested in writing a memoir focusing on your more recent accomplishments?
JC: I’ve already written a book about my more recent accomplishments. It’s called Beyond the White House.
KW: Leon Marquis says: You have done more good after leaving office than any
other United States President, from traveling the world, to certifying free
and open elections, to working with Habitat for Humanity, to traveling to
North Korea. You have become the "Soul of American Diplomacy." My question
is: Why can't the other ex-presidents get it right?
JC: Well, I wouldn’t say they’re wrong, Leon, because each one of us is an individual, just like talk show hosts are different from one another, and newspaper columnists are different from each other. So, former presidents are different from each other, too. Some have gone into relative seclusion. Some have decided to teach. In fact, I’m finishing my 30th year as a professor at Emory University. I’ve found it very enjoyable and very beneficial to me to keep active. But I wouldn’t criticize any president who has chosen to take a different route.
KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles asks: Is there a personal moral tension between being a good Christian and being a good Commander of a nuclear submarine?
How can an officer--especially one of great faith—reconcile being asked to lead troops into battle with the Fifth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Kill?
JC: The most important Bible teaching that I remembered when I was in the Navy and when I was Commander-in-Chief, was that we worshipped The Prince of Peace. Jesus Christ is The Prince of Peace. So, I considered myself, as a submarine officer, as helping to preserve the peace. And I felt the same way when I was president. As a matter of fact, although we had some terrible challenges and temptations when I was in office, we never dropped a bomb… we never launched a missile… and we never fired a bullet. I think that one of the main requirements for a strong military, like a strong submarine force, is to prevent war, not to cause war.
KW: Larry Greenberg says: It seems like we are at a point now where books are moving from bound paper to digital media. How will this impact the study and reverence for the Bible?
JC: You can already download any of the religious texts onto electronic mechanisms like a Kindle. But I think many people prefer to hold a book in their hands. We recently gave my daughter Amy a new electronic device, but since she used to work in a library, she still insists on reading exclusively from books. I take my Bible with me to church every Sunday to teach the Bible lesson. I do that whenever I’m in Plains, oh, about 35 to 40 times a year. So, I think that for many people, particularly when reading Holy Scriptures, a Bible you can hold in your hands is most appropriate.
KW: I still prefer the touch of paper. I still haven’t made the jump to reading books electronically.
JC: [Chuckles] I can understand that.
KW: Troy Johnson asks: Do you see any parallels between the lead-up to the 1980 Presidential Election and the 2012 campaign?
JC: Not really. Back in those days, we didn’t have massive sums of money pouring in. We never ran any negative advertisements. I always referred to President Ford during the 1976 campaign as “my distinguished opponent.” That was all. And I behaved the same way as an incumbent, when Ronald Reagan ran against me in 1980. And the amount of money we raised against each other from special interest groups and from lobbyists for the general election was zero. Neither President Ford, nor Governor Reagan nor I ever raised a single dollar from them to run against each other in the general election. Sadly, all of that has changed. What this massive infusion of more money into the political campaign has caused is a mammoth increase in negative ads. That’s a tragedy, in my opinion, and a step backwards for the political system of our country.
President Jimmy Carter: Crisis of Confidence - Address to the Nation July 1979
KW: Troy also says that he read in the Wall Street Journal that not since
Herbert Hoover has a party out of power had such an opportunity to run
against everything that troubles the American family—prices, interest rates,
unemployment, taxes, fear of the future, etcetera. Do you think the
Republican Party will employ that strategy against an Obama administration
which seems vulnerable in terms of both foreign and domestic policy?
JC: Well, I’m not a political strategist, and I’m certainly not one for the Republican Party. [Chuckles] I will say that any incumbent president has to run on his record, and President Obama has had a very limited number of accomplishments so far. But he’s been handicapped by the lack of any cooperation on the part of the Republicans who serve in the House and Senate. So, Congress has been an obstacle to President Obama. I think the American people will be able to ascertain as the election approaches who is to blame for the stalemate and who deserves credit for the best proposals for the future.
KW: Lisa Loving asks: How should we as Americans and as voters work to overcome the sometimes hateful tone of our politics today?
JC: Unfortunately, every American citizen takes the same position as you do, Lisa, that we don’t like negative advertisements. But they work! And, as you see, many a candidate has prevailed by tearing down the reputation of an opponent in a more advantageous position. I think that the best approach would be if the American people ever insist that we cut down on the massive amounts of money that moves into the campaigns from special interest groups, and if we resist publicly by saying “No more negative advertisements that destroy the reputations of one’s opponents.” In the meantime, just don’t pay any attention to negative ads, if you can avoid them, and try to focus on the issues.
KW: Tracy Ertl, Publisher of TitleTown Publishing, says: I love Jimmy Carter! I was barely a teen when you took office. You were truly the first President that I recognized as such with any true understanding. Mr. President, what is something that every God-believing American could do this year to bring more stability and safety to the youth of the country?
JC: I think all of us could insist on preserving the truth and preserving the peace. We could insist that political candidates tell the truth about controversial issues. And secondly, we should be sure to encourage our political leaders, after they’re elected, to preserve the peace. My latest book, of course, is about the Bible. I worship as a Christian. I worship The Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. He’s not The Prince of War. That’s why it really aggrieves me when I sometimes see fellow believers lobbying to start a war over something minimal when the peaceful approach might be the best. I was lucky enough to get through four years in office under very trying circumstances. We never dropped a bomb, we never launched a missile, and we never fired a bullet in anger. And we not only resolved our problems peacefully, but we promoted peace between adversarial nations. For instance, Egypt and Israel had been at war four times in the quarter-century before I became president, and I was able to negotiate a peace treaty between them that has held up for over 33 years. So, I think peace and telling the truth are the keys.
KW: Reverend Florine Thompson asks: Based on your Biblical worldview, should the US support Israel, militarily, at any cost?
JC: I tried to eliminate the need for Israel to strike out, militarily, by removing its major threat and attacker, and that was Egypt. I’ve written a few books on the subject. There’s no doubt that the best way to resolve Israel’s problems is to negotiate peace between Israel and its immediate neighbors, particularly the Palestinians. And that’s something that’s not going to be achieved, in my opinion, without the strong involvement of the American president. I hope that President Obama, during his second term, will insist upon a peaceful resolution of the issues that divide the Israelis from their neighbors, and bring about a two-state solution with the ’67 borders as modified by a common agreement that would let the Palestinians and the Israelis and the Jordanians and the Lebanese and the Egyptians live in peace.
KW: Reverend Thompson also asks: What is your favorite bible verse and why?
JC: As a Christian, like a lot of other Christians, my favorite is John 3:16, where it explains in the Bible that God loves us all so much that He gave His only son to die and save us from our sins. Another favorite verse of mine is the one that says, “Be ye kind one to another.” As I’ve already mentioned, I also like the ones that refer to Jesus promoting peace. And I like the one that Paul described to the Galatians which says that everybody is equal in the eyes of God: servants and masters… men and women… Jews and Gentiles… That every human being is equal to each other in the eyes of God.
KW: Cynique, a retired postal employee, and frequent contributor to AALBC.com’s Discussion Forum, says she really admires you and feels Ronald Reagan was a better actor than politician. She asks: Do you agree?
JC: [Chuckles] I’m pretty, highly prejudiced about that. I think that the way I ran the American government was good, and I’m not going to comment on the other presidents.
KW: Filmmaker Kevin Williams says: Mr. President, thank you for coming to visit my hometown of Trenton, NJ as you did back in the 1970s. I was 8 years-old when you were elected, so you were the first president I had ever really known. My question: How did your faith help you adjust to life after your Presidency?
JC: My faith has helped me to adjust to life whether I was a small farm boy, a submarine officer, governor, president or an ex-president. I’ve tried to remember the teaching that we have to accommodate change we can’t control in our lives, whether it’s disappointment, sorrow, loss or failure, while simultaneously clinging to principles that never change. And that’s what I try to emphasize in my writings and in my teaching of the Bible every week. There are moral values that are most important in life which never change and which enable us to handle setbacks and challenges in a much more equitable, peaceful and happy way.
KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: What words of wisdom might you have for President Obama?
JC: Tell the truth and promote the peace.
KW: Thanks again for the time, President Carter. I really appreciate it.
JC: Thank you, Kam, I really enjoyed talking to you again.
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Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, Place: Tingoli, Ghana, Date: Feb. 8, 2007, Credit: Louise Gubb/The Carter Center
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, Place: Savelugu, Ghana, Date: Feb. 8, 2007, Credit: Louise Gubb/The Carter Cente