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Jimmy Carter, 93, talks about his new book: ‘Faith’

Former President Jimmy Carter. Photo by Sara Sanders Mitchell

(RNS) — In his 32nd book, titled simply “Faith,” Jimmy Carter looks at how belief in God and others has shaped his 93 years.

“To me, ‘faith’ is not just a noun but also a verb,” the former president writes in his latest — and possibly last — book.

Carter talked about his new book with Religion News Service, and why he is scaling back on teaching his popular Sunday school class in Plains, Ga. The 39th U.S. president also explained why, after some consultation, he decided to speak at Liberty University’s commencement this May.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Of the 32 books you have written, more than half a dozen have focused on faith. Why did you decide to write one with just that word as its title?

My publishers felt that, with the world situation today, a lot of people have lost faith in basic principles that shouldn’t be ever questioned: faith in democracy, faith in freedom, faith in equality, faith in the integrity of the truth, faith in the idea of education, faith in ourselves, quite often, faith in our fellow human beings.

And those losses of faith I think precipitated my using, you might say, 93 years of experience and trying to provide the answer of what does faith mean to us and how can we apply our existing faith or potential faith, if we don’t have it yet, into answering these questions that face us in our daily life.

You write, as you enter the last stages of your life, that you still have faith that the world will not self-destruct from nuclear war or environmental degradation. Why do you feel that way, especially with current U.S. tensions over Syria and North Korea?

Well, we’ve had those tensions for a long time and I think they’ve been kind of exacerbated lately by the rhetoric that exists between the United States and other countries, including North Korea and Russia and involving Syria and other places. But this is something that I learned when I was first elected president, before I was sworn in: that I had the ability with 15,000 or more nuclear weapons, along with those owned by the Soviet Union, to wipe out all living creatures on earth.

And so that still is a responsibility or a duty that addresses every president in office.

The next real challenge for us is to learn how to apply, I’d say, Christian and other religious principles in learning how to live with each other in harmony and mutual respect and even some elements of love with those with whom we disagree. And that’s a major challenge that’s very difficult to achieve but I think it’s the most important thing that we face today.

Why did you decide to speak at Liberty University’s upcoming commencement, despite differences you’ve had with its leaders, political or otherwise, and can you give some hint of what you might say there?

“Faith: A Journey for All” by Jimmy Carter. Image courtesy of Simon and Schuster

I haven’t had any difference of opinion with the current president. I had difficulties sometimes with his father. But I got the invitation, which was something of a surprise to me, and I consulted with my, I say, more moderate Baptist friends. And overwhelmingly they advised me to take a chance as one more step in a longtime effort to provide some element of reconciliation among Christians, and particularly among Baptists, who disagree with each other.

I think we’ve come a long way since I was in office as president, in overcoming that by applying the basic element of Christianity, that is, through the grace of God and our faith in Jesus Christ, we’re the same and there’s no difference between us. And I think we have realized that the overwhelming things that bind us together are much more domineering and dominating in our lives than the differences that exist.

You write that “God is not my personal valet.” What do you mean by that?

(Laughs) When I was younger I used to devote my prayers primarily to things that I wanted God to help me get or to do or to accomplish. As I’ve gotten older and older I realized that my main prayers — I didn’t make this decision in advance — but my main prayers are ones of thanksgiving. And I had this feeling in particular when I thought a couple of years ago that I was going to die in a couple of weeks from cancer. I had cancer in my liver and also four places in my brain. And so I thought my life was about over and I realized at that time that I didn’t have any fear of death. I was just grateful for the wonderful life that I had been granted.


RELATED: A Bible study led by 92-year-old Jimmy Carter is a sight to behold


You’ve announced plans to cut back on teaching Sunday school at your Plains, Ga., church, but I believe you still taught three out of the four Sundays in March. Why are you making this decision and is it a hard one for you?

 I did. I’ve cut back on my overseas travel already. I’m going on 94 years old and my wife is 90 years old. She’s been quite ill lately. And so we both decided just to cut back on our extracurricular activities. We have a wonderful teacher when I’m not there.

A lot of people in and around Plains, they come to our church; we only have about 30 members. I think we had 350 visitors this past Sunday, by the way, when I taught. But we need to strengthen our own church so that when I’m no longer there, that it will continue to exist. And a lot of local Plains folks don’t like to come to a church where we’re overrun with visitors that don’t have much communication and so forth with each other, fellowship. I’ll be teaching twice in this month. So I’ll continue to teach but I’ll give other teachers and other members of the church a chance to be in the forefront.

The nation just marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Why did you decide to serve as a mediator during a dispute with his children and what difference do you think that made?

I think it all worked out quite well, luckily, not because of what I did but because they were willing to ask me and others to help them. I just met with the three children of Martin Luther King Jr. on a number of occasions over a two-year period and eventually they decided themselves to resolve their differences, which had existed only in court with lawsuits against each other. So they finally have been able to work it out together. I helped a little bit but I was very glad to do it, and got to know them intimately and appreciate once again the great contribution that their father had made.

Your book “Faith” seems to sum up not only your thoughts on faith, but your accomplishments over 93 years. Do you think this is your last book or do you still have more to say and write?

Well, I thought the last book was my last book. I wasn’t intending to write this but my publishers felt, and I didn’t disagree, that the general attitude around the world of disillusionment and a lack of faith in things that never change had become more of a problem. 


RELATED: Jimmy Carter 3.0: Building a post-presidential legacy


People often describe you as the 39th president and as a Habitat for Humanity homebuilder

We do still do that.

For what do you want to be remembered most?

Well, I wouldn’t mind people remembering me as a Habitat Build volunteer. But also I would say in that White House and in The Carter Center we’ve tried to emphasize peace and human rights. And I try to be a champion of peace. I was able, and fortunate enough, to keep my country at peace for four years, which is kind of a rare achievement, and also to be a champion of human rights. So that’s what I’m proud of, among other things. I was blessed with a good wife and a good marriage.

Do you still have faith as you look at these challenging issues that you have faced some of the time at the end of your life?

That’s the main thrust of the book. Despite the challenges that we face, based on my past experience and the past achievements of my country and the world, I still have faith in the ability of human beings to survive and to overcome the transient problems that face us all.

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

22 Comments

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  • Whoah, the Oxymoron Detector just crashed on me as soon as brother Jimmy Carter said this:

    “The general attitude around the world of disillusionment and a lack of FAITH in things that never change had become more of a PROBLEM. … [But] I still have FAITH in the ability of human beings to survive and to overcome the transient PROBLEMS that face us all.”

    Here’s the oxymoron: “[Since] FAITH … had become more of a PROBLEM … [well, then] have FAITH … to overcome … PROBLEMS”.

    Maybe that’s because “To [JC the former president here], ‘faith’ is not just a noun but also a verb” – whereas to the Other JC, You-Know-Who, the President of presidents – yeah, That One – it’s neither.

  • I have some mild differences with former President Carter, a few of which relate to questions of faith, which coincidentally is the title of his latest literary offering. However, there’s no need to air them here, I’m more interested in extolling him for his past and present service to our nation.

  • Truth is, according to Wikipedia’s sources:

    “In the wake of Nixon’s Watergate Scandal, exit polls from the 1976 Presidential election suggested that many still held Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon against him. By comparison Carter was a sincere, honest, and well-meaning Southerner. Carter began his term with a 66 percent approval rating which had dropped to 34 percent approval by the time he left office, with 55 percent disapproving.

    “In the 1980 campaign, former California Governor Ronald Reagan projected an easy self-confidence, in contrast to Carter’s serious and introspective temperament. What many people believed to be Carter’s personal attention to detail, his pessimistic attitude, his seeming indecisiveness and weakness with people were accentuated in contrast to what many people believed, Reagan’s charismatic charm and delegation of tasks to subordinates. Reagan used the economic problems, Iran hostage crisis, and lack of Washington cooperation to portray Carter as a weak and ineffectual leader. Like his immediate predecessor, Gerald Ford, Carter did not serve a second term as president. Among those who were elected as president, Carter was the first since Hoover in 1932 to lose a reelection bid.

    “Carter’s post-presidency activities have been favorably received. The Independent wrote, ‘Carter is widely considered a better man than he was a president.’ His presidential approval rating was just 31 percent immediately before the 1980 election, but 64 percent approved of his performance as president in a 2009 poll.”

  • Yeah, what’s up with that? – seeing as JC here “ha[s]n’t had any difference of opinion with the current president [Jerry Falwell Junior but] had difficulties sometimes with his father.”

    “SOMETIMES”?! Jerry Falwell Senior was the guy who betrayed JC, subverted Christians’ support of JC, then truckloaded them all over to Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party. No born-again Christian supporters remaining now in support of the Democratic Party – thanks to, y’know, “his father”! I guess LU alumni, graduates, their families and Junior just wanna thank the guy in person?

    Nah, this stinks. Something’s up. JC’s politicking with the Christian Right Nationalists as per his last mission on earth! Who knows who sent who to whom.

  • Faith is a very poor way to run any society.Its like removing all the stoplights and driving blindfolded.

  • What on earth is Jimmy thinking? Can’t he get invited to a real university? That has students who really think and are open to alternative viewpoints? And a president with those qualities?

    This is very sad. I voted for him, and admired him, but he’s been going downhill ever since he left office.

  • Then there is faith based on doing the necessary research which Jimmy C. has never done. If he did, he would use the following summary of Christianity in the 21st century:

    The Apostles’ Creed 2018: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years) (

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (references used are available upon request)

  • Carter was a far better president than the unfit buffoon currently disgracing the White House. Carter has written 32 books; Trump has probably never READ 32 books.

  • While I do not share Carter’s religious beliefs, I still regard him as a better president than the Repubs who followed him into the WH.

  • No, you are in error.

    When I want to sit down, I first locate the chair with my eyes. Once I see it, I walk over to it and move it with my hand. Sometimes, depending on the weight and position of the chair, I might even use both hands. Having firmly established the objective existence of the chair with senses of sight and touch, then I place my posterior upon the seat.

    As you can see (if you’re not blind), there is no faith involved when I sit on a chair. QED.

  • Those 3 I couldn’t stand. But “for the role of National Security Adviser, Carter selected Zbigniew Brzezinski, who emerged as one of Carter’s closest advisers” – and put into action his diabolical Theory of the Clash of Civilizations toward regime changes all over the world. And what, Carter the Man of Peace wasn’t in cahoots?

  • I’m trying to find the transcript of Carter’s commencement speech at Liberty U.

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