Happy Birthday, Jimmy Carter!
Today. 1 October, is the birthday of James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr. (1924-) who turned 86 years young this morning. I make no secret of the fact that Carter is the U. S. president during my lifetime whom I admire the most. Born and raised in rural South Georgia, Carter earned a B.A. from the U. S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1946, graduating near the top of his class. Later, as part of his work in the nuclear submarine program for the Navy, Carter did graduate work in nuclear engineering at Union College. He rose to the rank of full Lieutenant in the Navy (a higher rank than Lieutenant is in the Army, Air Force, or Marines) before his father’s death led him to resign his commission, return to Georgia, and take over the family farm and farm supply business.
In 1971, he became the 76th Governor of the state of Georgia. He had allowed voters to assume he would continue racist policies and the “states’ rights” resistance to desegregation, but announced at his inauguration that the era of segregation and racism was over–and followed through with his actions in office. On 02 November 1976, Carter was elected the 39th President of the United States of America having run on a platform of honesty (“I’ll never lie to you!”), government integrity and responsibility, and a foreign policy to be guided by the promotion and defense of universal human rights, democracy, and self-determination.
He was President of the U. S. from 20 January 1977 to 20 January 1981. During his time in office, he granted amnesty to most Vietnam War resisters who had fled to Canada or Europe to avoid being drafted to serve in an imperialistic war; created the U.S. Department of Education & the U.S. Department of Energy; strengthened environmental laws; negotiated the renewal of the Panama Canal Treaty; negotiated the Camp David Accords which led to the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty (not one line of which has ever been broken); promoted human rights around the world; boycotted U.S. participation in the Moscow Winter Olympics to protest the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR; tried to solve the energy crisis, and–after the Iranian revolution, successfully worked to free all American hostages captured when armed Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy–though the crisis cost him his presidency. In November 1980, Jimmy Carter, evangelical Christian and Baptist Sunday School teacher, was abandoned by the majority of U.S. evangelicals who, instead, elected a divorced former B-grade actor who drank like a fish and ran his White House by astrology!
In the years since the Presidency, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter opened the Carter Center for peace, democracy, and human rights on the campus of Emory University. Through the Carter Center, they have monitored elections for developing democracies, negotiated peace in conflict areas, worked to eradicated preventable diseases, promoted mental health, and much more. As a prominent board member of Habitat for Humanity, Carter has helped build homes with and for the working poor throughout the U.S. and in several foreign countries. In 2002, Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
A “born again” evangelical Christian and active Baptist layperson, Carter regularly teaches adult Sunday School classes at Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, GA. He has worked to try to heal divisions among differing Baptist groups and has been especially active in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance.
Jimmy Carter is the author of 23 books, 21 written since leaving the White House. They have ranged from a children’s book illustrated by his daughter, Amy, to a novel about the path of the U.S. Revolutionary War in Georgia, to meditations on favorite Scripture passages. Most, however, have addressed public policy issues and peacemaking.
Can a Christian, a real, follow-Jesus-seriously-Christian lead a nation with an imperial military presence the world over? Maybe not–but at least one (not a pacifist, but a strong peacemaker) tried to do so.