A talk about faith with former President Jimmy Carter

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Fifteen years ago I traveled to former President Jimmy Carter’s boyhood home in Archery, Georgia, just outside of Plains, for a conversation about his faith. We thought today, on Presidents Day, would be a perfect time to revisit that story.

It was April, 2009. We sat on the screened in back porch of the home where he grew up. The President sat in a white rocking chair and welcomed questions about his faith. He has written quite a few books about it, taught Sunday School class, and put his faith into action helping to build scores of Habitat for Humanity homes all over the country.

One of the cornerstone’s of President Carter’s faith is prayer, a discipline instilled in him as a young boy. He told me, “There have been a lot of times when we’ve prayed and God’s will has been done. And when my prayer was compatible with God’s will, then that’s when I know they’re answered.”

The intense pressure of the presidency is enough to bring anyone to their knees. The President recalls, “The most fervent and constant prayers of mine were while I was in the White House because I knew there was enormous responsibility on my shoulders, and we faced some very difficult decisions, too, concerning the lives of tens of thousands of people. So I prayed for wisdom and for God’s guidance that I wouldn’t make a mistake, that I could keep my country at peace and still preserve its integrity and security. Those are the kinds of things for which I prayed.”

President Carter remembered a specific example of when he and his wife, Rosalynn, called on God for direction early in their marriage. “When we came home from the Navy to live in Plains, I had been in the Navy when Harry Truman eradicated racial segregation for all the military services. So I came home as a much more liberal person on the race issue than the rest of the folks who lived here were. A group of people in Sumter County organized a boycott against my business, and we were kind of pariahs in Plains for a while, my wife and I both.”

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“So we prayed that we could be guided either to leave Plains and go back to a very lucrative job. I was one of the experts on nuclear power then, and my services would have been in demand. I could have made a very high salary. But we prayed for guidance, and I think it was God’s guidance that kept us here in Plains which turned out to be very good for us in the years after that.”

As a Christian, President Carter believed in personally spreading the gospel. “I’ve always wanted to share my faith with other people,” he said. “Even when I was a midshipman at the Naval Academy, I taught Sunday School every Sunday.”

I asked him if he felt like teaching was one of his spiritual gifts, to which he responded, “I think so. I enjoy it, and I think it means something to other people as well. We have large crowds come to Maranatha (Baptist Church) on occasion. Sometimes we have several hundred people that come, I guess to see out of curiosity a politician teaching the Bible.”

President Carter continued to teach Sunday School at his home church in Plains well into his 90’s. The last lesson he taught was in November of 2019.

President Carter is quoted as saying, “My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can, with whatever I have, to try to make a difference.”

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