(For part one of this two part series, click here.)
The Nobel Peace Prize, 2002
Carter’s receipt of the Nobel Prize in 2002 could have been fully justified as acknowledgement of Carter’s exemplary use of his prestige as an ex-President to advance the many philanthropic and humanitarian causes that I noted in essay one. In light of this, it took many observers by surprise – indeed it seemed to cheapen the gift in the eyes of many – when the spokesman for the Nobel Prize committee went out of the way to proclaim to the world (October 11, 2002) that the committee’s thinking had been essentially political: ”With the position Carter has taken on this [referring to the Bush government’s declaration of its intent to seek UN support for an invasion of Iraq] it can and must also be seen as criticism of the line the current U.S. administration has taken on Iraq … It’s a kick in the leg to all that follow the same line as the United States.” [Jeffrey Gettleman, “Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to Carter With Criticism of Bush,” NYT, October 11, 2002.] Thus the Swedish committee extended the Nobel halo to Carter’s campaign against the policies of his own government and at the same time it gave its blessing to his campaign of defamation against Israel.
Carter’s twin-campaign to change the heart of the Democratic Party and the Baptist Churches
Jimmy Carter is perhaps the only man alive who interprets his 1980 defeat as the consequence of the failure of his Party to rally to his record and his enlightened policies. Since 1984, the Party has stiff-armed his appeals to find a place on the platform at its conventions. No candidate wants a picture taken with him. His foreign policy exercises are ignored by the Party or, when he persists on timing them in such a way as to demand response by current leaders, he is rudely repulsed. It cannot be denied that there is a cruel and unworthy dimension to this.
Another failure of similar dimension is the campaign which he announced publicly (together with ex-President Clinton) in January, 2007 to realign the entire constituency of Baptists in the United States away from what he regards as benighted reaction and towards progressivism. Carter formally separated from the SBC some years ago, accusing it publicly of hard-heartedness towards the under-privileged at home and abroad and of a general failure to be “inclusive.” The Carter-Clinton plan is to lobby within all the Baptist bodies (nobody on earth has ever counted them all) and get their leaders to join in establishment of “a New Baptist Covenant” – a community of Baptists more “inclusive” in their thinking, gentler in attitude towards homosexuals and less judgmental towards the practice of abortion.
However sincere the theological and moral motivation may be, there is a blatant partisan intention in this effort that has not escaped commentators. The advertised goals set for this group are described in terms of key concepts and key words that appear in the Democratic Party platform and in its general all-purpose policy statements issued to candidates. Carter’s Baptist project is joined at the hip to his anti-Israel campaign. Both are designed to move large numbers of conservative Christian voters out of the Republican camp (where attitudes are generally pro-Israel) and into the Democratic (where they are mixed), thus weakening the strategic strength of the Conservative pro-Israel block. [See Ed Lasky, “Splitting the Evangelicals from Israel, http://www.Americanthinker.com, January 30, 2007; Don Feder, “Carter and Clinton’s New Covenant, http://www.frontpagemagazine.com, January 30, 2007.]
Jimmy Carter as Christian Statesman
In his memoirs, Carter describes with pain and resentment being told by leaders of his own Southern Baptist Convention and other “fundamentalist” Christians that the reason for his failures as President was that he had gone over to “secular humanism.” Carter has every right to be baffled by this judgment. Jimmy Carter’s religious commitment is utterly sincere and unqualified. This thought is offered not in condescension, but out of qualified respect. Like every other serious Christian intellectual he struggles constantly to delineate for himself the integrity of his thoughts and deeds.
Jimmy Carter passes the Gospel’s test of Christian faithfulness. No one can claim that Jimmy Carter is ashamed of the gospel (Luke 9:26); he has not preferred the praise of men to the praise of God (John 12:43). More than any political figure of recent decades, he has endured, by and large patiently, abuse and ridicule for his designation of himself as a “born Again Christian” – a term he has never repudiated.
”The Best” is yet to come
Jimmy Carter never looks back for long upon the monuments that mark his progress towards “the best”. He is certain that his best is yet to come
Carter’s ambition is to be acknowledged as the spiritual leader of progressive forces throughout the world – for which purpose he needs to be aligned with majority opinion of the nations of the United Nations. And he believes that to accomplish this he must simultaneously make absolutely secure his standing as a prophet within the Church.
Late in the month of March, 2012, Eerdrmans Publishing Company announced a new “Study Bible” based upon the notes for Jimmy Carter’s weekly Sunday School lessons –“685 time so far,” he says — at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. [Eric Marrapodi, “Publishing Study Bible, Jimmy Carter opens up about faith, life,” http://www.local10.com/, March 28, 2012. ] As described by the publisher, the book contains “’Bible in Life’ notes, in-depth studies and insightful observations and reflections … short, application-oriented notes on particular verses and … longer articles on particular topics … brief one-sentence sayings and quotations by Jimmy Carter.”
Not since the first generation of the Reformation has any leader o Protestant opinion expressed ambition on this scale. No office-holder in the hierarchy of any non-Roman Catholic church, likewise no preacher – including all the television preachers (at least since Billy Graham has been sidelined by frailty) now controls an audience as large as does Jimmy Carter.
A clue to Carter’s understanding of his place in the Christian world was dropped upon us suddenly a few days ago. [http://www.catholicculture.org/news, “President Carter says he clashed with ‘fundamentalist’ Pope John Paul II,” Catholic World News, March 23, 2012.]
Former US President Jimmy Carter has disclosed that he had angry exchanges with Pope John Paul II about liberation theology and about the ordination of women. The former president said that he complained to the Pontiff about the Church’s “perpetuation of the subservience of women” while Blessed John Paul II was visiting the US in 1978 ….and “there was more harshness,” Carter now reports.
Carter told the press on this recent occasion that he classified the Pope as a “fundamentalist.” Going further, he thinks that “were he to have that conversation today he would explain to the Pope why he should join him in support of the right of same-sex couples to be married in civil ceremonies … while suggesting, “maybe arbitrarily .. that churches should not be required by law to solemnize same-sex unions.’”
What is most striking (at least to me) is that Carter recalls this as a toe-to-toe contest of peers, an unique opportunity to set right the Vicar of Christ, who , just like the Southern Baptist leaders, had fallen short because of his “fundamentalism.”
It is not easy to reconcile this episode with Carter’s own commentary (in the new Bible) on Mark 9:34: “Like the disciples, we should not be proud, seek an ascendant position or argue about who is greatest among us.” But then, nobody’s perfect.
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