Jimmy Carter embodies the "missed path" of many white evangelical Christians | CNN (2023)


Long before being named a Nobel Peace Prize winner, he was a philanthropist and39th presidentfrom the United States, Jimmy Carter was known as something else: a "lover of fucking niggers."

That's the racial slur that a classmate of Carter's at the US Naval Academy pinned on him as future president shortly after World War II.I made friendsthe only black applicant to the Academy.

Carter received the same racial nickname when he took over his family's peanut farm in South Georgia during the Jim Crow era. He has repeatedly refused to join a segregationist group called the White Citizens' Council, despite threats to boycott his peanut business. A delegation representing the board confronted Carter in his warehouse one day with a member who even offered to pay his $5 membership fee.

As one of his biographers notedCarter was so angry that he went to the register, pulled out a five-dollar bill, and declared, "I'll take this and flush, but I won't join the White Citizens Council."

Many people have shared similar stories about Carter since the 98-year-old former president recently entered hospice care. As tributes to Carter pour in from around the world, certain themes have emerged: his Christian faith, his childhood friendships with African-Americans that shaped his views on race, and the basis of hisCarter Center, who cemented his post-presidency role as a peacemaker and ally of the poor.

But there is another source of inspiration for Carter that has been overlooked in many of the tributes: his distinctive brand of white evangelical Christianity that is hidden from most Americans.

Carter is a progressive white evangelical Christian. This may sound like an oxymoron, but it shouldn't. Progressive white evangelicalism was once what a historiancalled"The Rising Trend of Evangelicalism in America".

Today, white evangelical Christians are rightly or wrongly associated with a variety of conservative political and theological positions. This includes, above all, resistance to abortion.enthusiastic followersto onecharacteristics of christian nationalismdestined to transform the United States into a white Christian nation, anddefendera former president who bragged about sexually assaulting women.

However, there were times in the 19th and early 20th centuries when white evangelical leadersguided campaignsagainst slavery, fought for women's rights, and became a leader in various social justice reform movements.

Carter represents a religious tradition in which a white evangelical can credibly claim to be a Bible-believing Christian, “I was saved by the blood of Jesus,” and still be politically progressive, he says.randall balmer, author of "Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter.“

Jimmy Carter embodies the "missed path" of many white evangelical Christians | CNN (1)

Former President Jimmy Carter with his wife Rosalynn after Sunday school classes December 13, 2015 at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia.

“He had no problem being identified as a progressive evangelical,” says Balmer, whose book tells the story of Carter's defense of a Black Naval Academy classmate and his refusal to join a group of white supremacists.

"There used to be a strong element within the convention (Southern Baptists) that identified as progressive evangelicalism, but now that's largely been eliminated," Balmer says.

Evangelicals broadly define themselves as Christians who often share a dramatic personal "born again" conversion, believe they must share their faith with others, and, in Balmer's words, take the Bible "seriously or literally."

(Video) 1980 Presidential Candidate Debate: Governor Ronald Reagan and President Jimmy Carter - 10/28/80

To understand how and why Carter represents what a commentator "theroad not taken' of many contemporary white evangelicals, it is useful to note two aspects of the former president's religious beliefs.

She parted ways with many evangelicals by campaigning for women's equality.

Less than a week after Carter entered hospice care, the Southern Baptist Conventionopted for expulsionone of their largest and most well-known churches because they used a female pastor. The Church was founded by Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life.

ForCriticism,the decision of the group offeredfuture evidencethat many white evangelicals do not believe in women's equality. Congress is the largest Protestant denomination, with nearly 14 million members. many times it wasdescribedas an "indicator of conservative Christianity".

Many evangelical churches cite passages such as 1 Timothy 2:12 (“I do not allow a woman to teach a man or exercise authority over him, but keep silent”). reflection of a theology that does not respect the body or spirit of women. Many white evangelicals dispute this, saying that abortion is the murder of an unborn child.

Carter's Progressive Evangelism takes a different view.

Carter, who served as a Sunday school teacher for decades, said the Bible allows for female pastors and deaconesses. Healso saysJesus treated women as equals and that women matteredpaper centerin the early organization of the Church, including the first to spread the message of the Resurrection.

Jimmy Carter embodies the "missed path" of many white evangelical Christians | CNN (2)

President Jimmy Carter raises his fist with his wife, First Lady Rosalynn Carter, after speaking at the 118th Annual National Education Association (NEA) Convention on July 3, 1980 in Los Angeles.

His views on abortion are more nuanced. he said it ispersonally against abortion, ButI do not fightroe vs. wade andOppositea proposed constitutional amendment to reverse the Roe decision.

Her actions as president offered more tangible evidence of her belief in women's equality.

Balmer says that Carter was a feminist who appointed more women to his administration than any president before him. Carter supported the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would guarantee legal equality for women. Former President Ronald Reagan, a white evangelical hero,Oppositethe change that failed in the end.

Carter's respect for women's equality is also evident in his relationship with his wife,rosalyn cartersay some of his biographers. When he was president, she attended cabinet meetings and important briefings. By many accounts, she was his most trusted political adviser.

Elizabeth Kurylo, who reported extensively to Carter during his post-presidency as he traveled the world on peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, says Carter appreciated his wife's contribution.

"He sees her as his partner, period. This is real," says Kurylo, a former reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "She was his partner with him on every trip and in the room with him on every trip. She doesn't always agree with him." I agree with him, although I've never seen a disagreement, I know he would tell him what he thought.

By the year 2000, Carter's differences with contemporary white evangelicalism had become so sharp that hecutting tieswith the Southern Baptist Convention after banning female pastors and publicly declaring that a woman "submit mercifully"man leadership.

"Personally, I feel like the Bible says that all people are equal in the eyes of God," he said at the time. "Personally, I believe that women should play an absolutely equal role in serving Christ in the church."

However, the deepest source of Carter's belief in women's equality was not religious. It was her mother, Lillian Carter.

(Video) The Jimmy Carter Song

Jimmy Carter embodies the "missed path" of many white evangelical Christians | CNN (3)

Jimmy Carter is embraced by his mother, Lillian Carter, as he arrives in Plains, Georgia, on January 20, 1981, the day Ronald Reagan succeeded him as president.

She was an outspoken, outspoken woman who was so pro-black in South Georgia during the Jim Crow era that she was also labeled a black lover and had her car covered in racial slurs. She joined the Peace Corps at the age of 68 and went to India to minister to the poor.

Carter called his mother the most influential woman in his life.

"I think my mother embodied the best of this country more than anyone I've ever known," Carter said.said in a 2008 interview. "My mother was a registered nurse and ... she treated African-Americans the same way she treated white people and she was the only one, perhaps out of 30,000 people who lived in our county, who did that. I was filled with admiration for my mother ”.

It embodies a type of belief that once guided social justice.

In October 1978, Newsweek magazine placed an illustration of Carter sporting his famous toothy grin on the cover.gathertitled: "Reborn!"

Today it is common to hear white evangelical leaders taking political stands and solemnly bowing their heads with political leaders in prayer. But for much of the 20th century, white evangelicals anxiously refrained from involvement in politics, citing scriptures like Jesus saying his kingdom was "not of this world."

Yet it was Carter who, possibly more than any modern politician, is responsible for awakening white evangelicals from their political hibernation. When he successfully ran for president in 1976, he introduced evangelical terms like “born again” into political discourse and spoke openly about his faith in a way no modern politician had ever done before.

Jimmy Carter embodies the "missed path" of many white evangelical Christians | CNN (4)

Reverend Martin Luther King Sr., left, President Jimmy Carter, and Coretta Scott King pray at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, on January 14, 1979. Carter received the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Award that day.

No other president had spoken openly about his "personal relationship with Jesus Christ," confessed in a famous magazine interview that "in my heart I have often committed adultery" and vowed he would never lie to the American people.

Carter won the presidency in part thanks to the support of white evangelicals, who were delighted to see someone who looked and sounded like them walk into the Oval Office. Televangelist Pat Robertson claimed that he "did everything possible to violate FCC rules" to get Carter elected in 1976, Balmer reports in his book.

Images of Carter at his peanut farm, dressed in jeans and an Allman Brothers Band T-shirt and quoting scripture, have appealed to white evangelicals, he says.Nancy T. Ammerman, sociologist and author of"Baptist Battle: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention."

"The idea that a regular guy who goes to church and isn't part of the coastal elite could become president was exciting to people," says Ammerman.

However, Carter quickly fell out with many white evangelicals over issues that define evangelical culture today: public positions on racism, homosexuality, abortion, and the separation of church and state. Carter, to varying degrees, disagreed with conservative white evangelicals on all of these issues.

(Video) Jimmy Carter's White House Jazz Festival June 18, 1978 "In Performance at the White House" Video

During the Carter presidency, the Internal Revenue Service attempted to enforce anti-discrimination laws for white Christian schools, which many evangelicals created to overturn the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education that declared segregated schools unconstitutional, says Balmer.

To enforce Brown's decision, the IRS refused to grant tax-exempt status to schools like South Carolina's Bob Jones University that did racial profiling, a move that white evangelical leaders wrongly blamed on Carter, Carter says. Balmer.

he was white evangelicalResistance to racial integrationn, not abortion, which originally motivated many evangelicals to get involved in politics in the 1970s, Balmer says.

“So they decided to make Ronald Reagan their political messiah,” says Balmer.

Jimmy Carter embodies the "missed path" of many white evangelical Christians | CNN (5)

President Jimmy Carter shakes hands with Republican opponent Ronald Reagan after their debate on October 28, 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio. After supporting Carter in 1976, white evangelicals turned to Reagan in the 1980 campaign.

Unlike former President Bill ClintonOthersCarter, a progressive white evangelical, refused to "triangulate" or adjust his beliefs to curry favor with evangelicals.

“While other evangelicals leaned toward the religious right, Carter defended universal health coverage, proposed cuts in military spending, and denounced tax legislation as 'a welfare program for the rich.'he wroteBetsy Shirley, editor of Sojourners magazine, in a review of Carter's book Faith.

Walter Mondale, who served as vice president in the Carter administration, recalled in an interview that he refused when advisers urged Carter to moderate his policies to preserve his popularity.

"Often the only argument that would ruin a person's case is if they say, 'That's good for you politically.'"The Mondale case."He didn't want to hear that. He didn't want to think that way and he didn't want his team to think that way. He wanted to know what's right.

Carter would pay a political price for his idealism. White conservative evangelicalsdecided decidedto Reagan in the 1980 presidential election. Those voters not only turned their backs on Carter, they also turned their backs on a piece of their own tradition, historians say.

That's because white evangelicals led the way on issues of social justice in the 19th century. Evangelical leaders likeCarlos FinneyHe fought against slavery, was active in prison reform, led crusades for peace, and was instrumental in founding public schools to provide social mobility for less fortunate children.

Jimmy Carter embodies the "missed path" of many white evangelical Christians | CNN (6)

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn work with Habitat for Humanity to build a house in Maryland in 2010 as part of a national project.

“They were also committed to women's equality, including the right to vote, which was a radical idea in the 19th century,” Balmer says.

(Video) Making People Laugh (2010) FULL SHOW | Jimmy Carr

These streams of progressive evangelicals survived well into the 20th century. In the 1960s and 1970s, Southern Baptists began ordaining women, passed resolutions supporting moderate abortion positions, and many members became involved in the civil rights movement. says Ammerman.

However, much of this progressive drive disappeared when conservatives gained control of the group in 1979 and the large white evangelical community allied with the Republican Party. White conservative evangelicals eventually gained so much power that their dominance convinced many Americans that the only true evangelicals were conservatives. Many forget that there were progressive white evangelists.

"He (Carter) represents the path that the denomination hasn't taken," says Ammerman. "In the 1960s and 1970s the denomination (Batista do Sul) moved in a more progressive direction."

He will leave behind a looming battle over the future of white evangelism.

The path Carter took in his post-presidency was more celebrated than his tenure. He was considered the most successful former president of the United States, someone who built houses for the poor and traveled the world to broker peace.

"The world is a better place because of him," says Kurylo, the former reporter who has traveled and written about Carter for years.

As the former president enters his final days, Kurylo says he doesn't want to think about the end of Carter's life.

Jimmy Carter embodies the "missed path" of many white evangelical Christians | CNN (7)

Former President Carter addresses the congregation at Maranatha Baptist Church before teaching Sunday school on April 28, 2019 in his hometown of Plains, Georgia. Carter has regularly taught Sunday school at the church since he left the White House in 1981.

"I wanted to celebrate the impact his remarkable life had on people around the world who will never know him," she says. "What a remarkable life he had and how wonderful it is to be able to see him for 10 years."

Part of what Carter will leave behind is the white evangelical subculture that nurtured him, and a looming struggle over its direction. Southern white evangelicals are, like other denominationsthey abandoned their churches en masse.

However, some religious leaders now say that white evangelicals have gained political power.lost his soulallying too much with a political party.

But Carter's life may offer one last lesson.

He may have lost political power when he refused to give in to white conservative evangelicals in the White House.

But maybe he had a different agenda: stay true to his faith.

The path Carter took turned out to be the right one for him and the countless people he had helped along the way.

John Blake is the author of the next"More than I thought: what a black man found out about the white mother, he never knew."


1. President Carter: The White House Years
(JFK Library)
2. Jimmy Carter Explained: US History Review
(Hip Hughes)
3. Houstonians reflect on Former President Jimmy Carter's legacy
(FOX 26 Houston)
4. A Conversation with Jimmy Carter
(JFK Library)
5. Denzel Washington.about Malcolm X with Jimmy Carter
(Jimmy Carter)
(Daze with Jordan the Lion)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Foster Heidenreich CPA

Last Updated: 01/05/2023

Views: 5805

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (56 voted)

Reviews: 95% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Foster Heidenreich CPA

Birthday: 1995-01-14

Address: 55021 Usha Garden, North Larisa, DE 19209

Phone: +6812240846623

Job: Corporate Healthcare Strategist

Hobby: Singing, Listening to music, Rafting, LARPing, Gardening, Quilting, Rappelling

Introduction: My name is Foster Heidenreich CPA, I am a delightful, quaint, glorious, quaint, faithful, enchanting, fine person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.