Down Home: Gratitude, respect—and prayer—for Jimmy Carter

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (right) with Baptist elder statesman Jimmy Allen at a meeting of the New Baptist Covenant. (Clip from a video)

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If Americans chiseled a Mount Rushmore to honor their greatest ex-presidents, surely Jimmy Carter’s face would dominate the panorama.

President Carter occupied the White House during a hard season in our national history, 1977-81. Collectively, we suffered a flurry of blows—exorbitant inflation, gas shortages, unrest in the Middle East and particularly Iran, and back-breaking interest rates. Pundits and historians have debated to what degree he was responsible for those maladies. Nevertheless, the punches added up and knocked him out of a second term.

 Carter immediately channeled his prodigious energy, global connections and Christian faith into acts of grace and redemption.

A force for good

He established the Carter Center and built it into a world-renowned force for good. Through the center, he has expanded democracy by monitoring and ensuring fair elections, reduced poverty around the globe, and almost single-handedly wiped out Guinea worm disease, which once incapacitated 3.5 million people per year in 21 African and Asian countries. He led the center to mediate peace and expand human rights. (To learn more about the Carter Center, click here.)

Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, lent their support—and their own manual labor—to Habitat for Humanity. Thousands of families around the world live in homes because of the Carters’ work and endorsement.

On top of this, he has taught Sunday School at Maranatha Baptist Church near his home in Plains, Ga., for decades, as he often did at First Baptist Church in Washington when he was president. On some Sundays, hundreds of visitors have flocked to the small congregation to hear the president teach the Bible—a book he reveres and which has shaped his life.

At New Baptist Covenant meeting

A couple of my all-time favorite moments as a journalist involved President Carter. Not quite a decade ago, he and his good friend Jimmy Allen, a Baptist elder statesman, launched an endeavor to heal the racial divide among Baptists. They called it the New Baptist Covenant. The initial rally attracted a multi-racial crowd of 15,000 to Atlanta in 2008, and the movement continues in communities across the nation.

I participated in the planning meetings, held at the Carter Center. During a break, I looked over and saw him sitting alone at his place at the table. I carried my copy of his newest book at the time, Our Endangered Values, and asked him to sign it. As he took pen in hand, we did what grandfathers and fathers do; we talked about our families.

Later, I conducted an exclusive interview for an article about what he and Allen hoped to accomplish through the New Baptist Covenant. The former governor of Georgia spoke clearly and eloquently about his passion for restoring racial harmony among Baptists. The integrity of the movement already had been validated by the quality of his friendships across the racial spectrum of the denomination.

Grace in battling cancer

Now, of course, we know Jimmy Carter is battling cancer. He recently announced his condition, which includes four melanoma tumors in his brain, and cancer possibly elsewhere in his body.

At a news conference in Atlanta, the peace and grace that developed across a 90-year walk with Jesus flowed from his lips. 

“I am perfectly at ease with whatever comes,” he said. “I’ve just been grateful …. I’m ready for anything. I’m looking forward to a new adventure.”

Thank God for Jimmy Carter, and pray for his cancer treatment, health and family. 

His “new adventure” will demonstrate grace, courage and dignity. He will teach the whole world how to face mortality with faith and “the peace that surpasses all understanding.”

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