Jimmy Carter: How the Bible shapes peacemakers

The Bible is full of violence from bloody battles in the opening books of the Bible through Jesus’ own death at the hands of the Roman empire, yet former President Jimmy Carter opens this book and finds great insight shaping his own worldwide work as a peacemaker. In the third and final part of our interview with Carter, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm asks about these connections Carter sees in scripture.

You’ll also want to read:
Part 1: How the Bible can help us find peace
And, Part 2: How the Bible inspires millions of caregivers


Click the Bible cover to visit its Amazon page.CRUMM: Your new devotional Bible might have been called The Humble Bible. I didn’t actually count the references, but I’ll bet the inspirational materials you’ve added here use the word “humble” more than any other devotional Bible we’ve seen. You’re a famous and influential man. You once were the most powerful man in the world as president. Why so much emphasis on “humble”?

CARTER: In the broad sketch of things, pride is probably the most insidious and damaging sins that we can have. Elements of arrogance, of superiority, of believing that people who differ from us are inferior implies that we think some people don’t deserve to enjoy the blessings of God as we do. I think that almost every other sinful trait of a human being can be traced directly or indirectly to a lack of humility. When we become proud, arrogant and superior—and then begin to derogate others—this results in the violation of basic human rights. It can result in going to war when war is not necessary.

Now, of course, we have some people in our country who have substituted the mistreatment of African-Americans with the derogation of immigrants. In my boyhood days, even when I was a young adult, the major prejudice not only in the South but in the rest of the country as well was against African Americans. Then, we also developed an animosity in the aftermath of 9/11 toward Muslims or people who are from Arab countries. That has now been transferred to a major degree to people from Latin America who have come to this country. That prejudice applies in various actions we have seen by legislatures that primarily are aimed against people who speak the Spanish language.

So, it seems that human beings, even in societies like our American society, want to have some adversary who we believe is inferior to us in some way. It’s a sin that needs to be avoided and I don’t think it’s an accident that a lot of the biblical analyses I have added to this book refer to that sin.

None of us should feel superior over—or inferior to—others. God provides ways that we all can be successful in the eyes of God, wherever we live, whatever our wealth may be, or whatever education we are able to accumulate. Remember that Jesus didn’t have any advantages like riches or a home and, of course, he didn’t live a long life on earth, and still he was a perfect example for what we ought to be. When we elevate secular things like wealth or self aggrandizement and take pride in our status in society—all of these are counter to the demands of Christ to be humble and to serve others. Christ calls us to love people who are not really loveable, to love people who may not love us back, to love people when we don’t get credit for it. That’s the essence of Christian agape love, I think.

CRUMM: You’re well aware of the risks of peacemaking. You write about it a number of times in the pages of this new devotional Bible. ReadTheSpirit actually publishes a book, Blessed Are the Peacemakers, that contains a whole chapter about your life as a model for this kind of risk taking. You’re even willing to risk the world’s scorn for your work, right?

CARTER: That’s a mandate for all Christians, I think. We worship the Prince of Peace. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said those words: Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be considered the children of God. And that’s a part of my current life as well as when I was in the White House. We always try to reach out to others with whom we are estranged, sometimes in unpopular ways. For example, Rosalyn and I regularly go to places like Cuba. We’ve been to North Korea three times. We go to countries where the US government considers leaders to be terrorists. We meet with everyone. I wouldn’t use the word “dangerous” to describe this approach of talking to everyone in pursuit of peace. But it can be an unpopular thing. When I went to Korea, at one point—and I do believe that I helped to prevent a war between North and South Korea as part of our Carter Center work—we were looked upon as appeasers and criticized by some.

So far, I’ve been talking about peacemaking in international affairs but I think that we must look for ways to make peace in our relationships inside America, with our neighbors down the street—or even within our own families. The mandate from Christ is to promote peace, harmony, understanding, forgiveness and grace. One of my favorite Bible verses is: Be ye kind to one another as God through Christ has been kind to us. That’s such a prevalent all-pervasive instruction throughout the Bible that it’s inescapable.

PHOTO CREDIT: The photo at top today shows former President Jimmy Carter volunteering at a clinic in Ghana. Photo taken in 2007 by Louise Gubb, used courtesy of The Carter Center.

Care to read more about devotional Bibles?

Stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit for ongoing reviews and news about special Bibles!
We recommend a new C.S. Lewis devotional Bible using the NRSV translation.
In January 2012, popular Bible scholar Eugene Peterson released a devotional Bible.
We also recommend two new editions of Thomas Jefferson’s Bible.

Care to read more about worldwide peacemakers?

Jimmy Carter is among the dozens of global peacemakers profiled in ReadTheSpirit’s “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” by Daniel Butty. The book is a collection of real-life stories about the men, women and children who are taking great risks around the world to counter violence with efforts to promote healthier, peaceful, diverse communities. Like Carter, Buttry is a Baptist who works on peacemaking projects around the world.

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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