Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently interviewed former President Jimmy Carter on his program Thinking in Public.
The interview was extremely extremely fascinating. President Carter spent much time talking about his background growing up as a Southern Baptist, teaching Sunday School while living in the White House and preparing Sunday School lessons at his church in Plains, Georgia. The former president also offered insight into how he views the Bible, salvation and issues such as homosexuality.
Below are a few highlights of Mohler’s interview:
On his personal faith while President
Mohler: …I want to go back to the Bible for a moment and talk about how the Bible functioned in your life during your public years of particular service in political office and especially the time you spent in the White House.
Carter: Well I prayed more and more devoutly and fervently when I was president than I did at any other time in my life because I felt the responsibility of really of a global Holocaust. It was during the time of the Cold War and I knew that the Soviet Union had 30,000 or so nuclear weapons and so did we, by the way, and I knew that any misstep on my part that might lead President Brezhnev to launch an atomic attack on the United States would be devastating to me and to the United States and to Russia and to the entire world, so I really turned more to the principle that I worshiped the Prince of Peace. And I would say that I elevated the maintenance of the peace to the top priority in my order of concerns. I would go into the Oval Office some morning and turn the globe around to Moscow and try to put myself into Brezhnev’s position so that I wouldn’t do anything or say anything that might cause him to make a mistake and launch an attack on us….
On the Bible
Mohler: …what do you believe about the nature and inspiration of the Bible? How would you describe its divine inspiration?
Carter: I think all of the Bible is divinely inspired, but it was interpreted, God’s message was interpreted, by fallible human beings, who were constrained by their knowledge of facts about the universe, for instance, when they wrote. God, who created everything, knew that the size of stars and God knew that the earth was not the center of the universe. And when the Bible says that the stars would fall on earth as though they were little twinkling things, obviously that’s not factual. And so I believe the basic thrust of the Bible, the basic message of the Bible, is epitomized in the life of Christ and in the teachings of Jesus Christ.
And I also believe that there is nothing in the Old Testament that contradicts the basic teachings of Christ for peace, justice, humility, love and so forth, and each person’s proper relationship with other human beings and also a relationship with God. So I believe in the miracles of the Bible. I believe that Jesus was come from a virgin birth. I believe Christ died for our sins on the cross. I believe He was resurrected and that we are promised, if we have faith in Christ through the grace of God, that we will inherit eternal life. I believe that God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son.
I believe those things, but I know that there are some things as a scientist—my background is in nuclear physics—there’re some things that weren’t understood by the writers of the Bible. I just ignored those discrepancies as insignificant.
Mohler: …What do you think about the Bible’s normative statements about human sexuality? How should we interpret those and apply those in the modern age?
Carter: Well I have to admit, Dr. Mohler, that I’m kind of selective on that point of view. I really turn almost exclusively to the teachings of Jesus Christ, who never mentioned homosexuality at all as a sin. He never condemned homosexuals and so I don’t condemn homosexuals. And our church, our little church in Plains, we don’t ask, when people come to join our church, if they’re gay or not. We don’t ordain, we don’t practice marriage between gay couples in our church, but that’s a Baptist privilege of autonomy of local churches. I’m against any sort of government law, either state or national, that would force churches to perform marriage between gay people, but I have no objection to civil ceremonies. And so, I know that Paul condemns homosexuality, as he did some other things like selfishness that everybody’s guilty of, and so I believe that Jesus reached out to people who were outcast, who were condemned, brought them in as equals and I also pretty well rely on Paul’s writing to the Galatians that everyone is equal in the eye’s of God and we’re treated with compassion. And I personally believe, maybe contrary to many of your listeners, that homosexuality is ingrained in a person’s character and is not something they adopt and can abandon at will. So I know that what I’ve just explained to you might be somewhat controversial, but it’s the way I feel.
Carter: I have one problem in my political service with my faith and that is concerning abortion. I have never believed that Jesus Christ would approve abortion and so I had to interpret my duties as president compatible with the Supreme Court ruling in Roe vs. Wade, but with my religious beliefs I did everything I possibly could to minimize a need for abortion by liberalizing adoption services and by starting a program—it’s still in existence, by the way—called Women and Infant Children, WIC programs where, because one of the—the key reason for abortions around the world is when a pregnant mother doesn’t think she and her baby will be cared for. So I did everything I could to minimize abortions because I don’t believe that Jesus would approve of a liberal interpretation of that law.
Mohler: …What is your understanding of the gospel and the necessity of personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?
Carter: I believe it is necessary and I teach that every Sunday in my classes that it is necessary for full salvation and acceptance before God to believe in Jesus Christ. The question then comes up, though, “However, how about the people that don’t know about Christ? How about the ones to whom Christians, evangelicals, have never reached or given them the message?” And I don’t feel constrained, Dr. Mohler, to condemn those people as lost or as going to hell, and I rationalize it, perhaps, in using theological terms, in using biblical terms, by Jesus’ admonish that we should not judge other people, but let God be the Judge. So, in a quandary like that about people who don’t know about Christ, what would be their fate? I’m inclined to believe that they will not be condemned or punished by God.
Mohler Thanks Carter:
I’m very thankful for the work of the Carter Center and you’ve largely, single-handedly, eradicated Guinea Worm Disease, which I find to be one of the most remarkable things that any human being can say. You’ve been President of the United States, you’ve received the Nobel Peace Prize, but, in terms of the way human beings live, eradicating a deadly disease is just one of the most amazing things that could be said. I also recently noted that you and Mrs. Carter have been married for over sixty-five years and in an age in which, quite frankly, so many of our public leaders model anything but that kind of faithfulness, I just want to tell you, I greatly admire how you’ve demonstrated that marital faithfulness together.
And I want to tell you what a great honor it’s been to have a conversation like this and you and I have exchanged ideas at a distance. I’ve written some articles that I felt like I needed to write; you published a very candid open letter to me in the Atlanta Journal Constitution a few years ago, but the great honor is knowing that we can actually have a conversation like this and we can stay by talking about our shared love of the Bible and then talk about where that same Bible and our understanding of it leads us also to differ. These are important things for us to talk about and I want to tell you how much I appreciate you joining me today on Thinking in Public.