Former President Jimmy Carter has been on TV several times lately talking about his new book, Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis [New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005]. His informed criticism of our nation's policies right now are as broad and comprehensive as the reach of his good works around the world. He is modest about those, saying that the Nobel Peace Prize he received in 2002 was awarded mostly to the Carter Center, not to him personally.
It's refreshing that more Democrats these days are using words like "values" and "morals." And it is useful to ordinary citizens to talk directly about the issues of right and wrong in our society now. Carter says he is a "born again" Christian who for 70 years (he is now 81) was a loyal Southern Baptist. Several years ago he left that denomination because it has become the opposite of what it once was. Now, he says, they are predominantly fundamentalists who want to take a narrow interpretation of Christianity to the halls of government and harshly judge anyone who disagrees with them. So Carter now calls himself an evangelical. Another well-known person in this category is Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine. Carter teaches at Emory University, studies theology and tries to put Christian teaching into practice.
So what are these endangered values? One he tackles right off is the separation of church and state. He quotes Jesus who said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." Carter believes most Americans do not want churches to try to control the government or to get special favors from it. He recalls the fears raised during John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign that if a Roman Catholic were elected that the pope would be a frequent visitor to the White House. As it worked out, Carter was the one who had John Paul II visit Washington, D.C.
Preemptive war is argued against in the chapter, "The Distortions of American Foreign Policy." How Christian is killing the innocent? The idea that we are right and everyone else is wrong is part of the war psychology, and it goes beyond that. Carter says the fundamentalists now have "adopted Fidel Castro as the ultimate human villain, and have elevated the small and militarily impotent nation of Cuba to one of the greatest threats to our nation's security and culture." He lifted travel restrictions to Cuba in 1977, but they were later restored. In a time when we need to have a world view, we are not even supporting the United Nations. He says the John Bolton appointment was a "shock to everyone who respects the institution and the purpose of its work during the past sixty years." Bolton perfectly reflects the attitudes of the Bush administration ... "the United Nations is valuable only when it, directly serves the United States."
Then there is capital punishment. We long ago gave up the idea of rehabilitation in favor of punishment. Now we have the highest murder rate of any industrial nation, about five times as great as that in European countries none of which has the death penalty.
Then Carter presents Jesus as a champion of women who treated them as equals. On abortion he has rather mixed feelings, but he certainly wants it kept legal and safe. And on gays, he reminds us that Jesus did not have anything to say on that subject, but it is unlikely that he would have condemned them.
There is much more in the book -- his opposition to the PATRIOT Act, his concern over the treatment of political prisoners, and the good acceptance we could have on the world stage if we just lived up to our best ideals. The great thing about Jimmy Carter is that he puts his altruistic religious beliefs into practice whether he is helping to supervise an election halfway around the world or working on a house for Habitat for Humanity. When Habitat first started in Stillwater, Okla., he came here to a warm reception. The values he works so hard to uphold are not just Christian. They are all-American.
Contact Alvena Bieri, 2023 W. 11th Ave, Stillwater OK 74074 or email BubbaBieri@aol.com.