Few politicians approach their understanding of the role of government in terms of Christian ethics. Jimmy Carter does. This is a powerful book written by one whose political career may suffer from mixed reviews by some, but none can challenge the fact that in his life is rooted in biblical faith and practice.
Here is a clearly confessional statement of the faith of one who calls himself a traditional evangelical Baptist. The book is a hard-hitting critique of the loss of civility in public discourse, which this former president attributes to the rise of the dual menaces of religious fundamentalism and political fundamentalism.
Carter begins his work with a clear confession of his faith as a former Southern Baptist rooted in the soil of Southern provincialism and biblical centrality.
He describes his life in the church, his life-long commitment of teaching Sunday school in the several churches in which he has been a member, and his family heritage of traditional faith. His mission trips and evangelistic witness, including sharing his faith with numerous world leaders, are described unapologetically. His pilgrimage is one with which many of the readers of EthicsDaily.com can readily identify.
What is unique for this book is its application of biblical teachings in unambiguous language to the pressing social, moral and political issues of our time. He is deeply concerned that America has lost her moral leadership in the world because of the failure to apply the ethic of Jesus in the body politic.
Carter describes his personal experiences with the rise of fundamentalism, its impact on his beloved denomination, its seeking after political influence, its denigration of women and homosexuals, and its abrasive treatment of all who disagree with its perspective.
The result of this fundamentalist mentality is the loss of a proper understanding of the reality that there should be no conflict between religion and science, the severe erosion of the separation of church and state, the elevation of homosexuality by the political and religious right as a sin above all others, an abhorrent practice of capital punishment, the subjugation of women in roles of leadership in the church, the growth of a misguided foreign policy, rejection of just-war approaches to international conflict and the despoiling of our environment.
The details of the book are too many for a brief review; hence, this is a book that must be read by all who care about a meaningful Christian ethic for our nation.
The most telling chapters of the book are his discussion of the proclivity of our current government toward violence, including the adoption of “preemptive war” ideology by the current administration, a policy that is encouraging proliferation of the world’s nuclear arsenal and failing to practice human rights in the war on terrorism.
Multiple facts are provided to bolster his arguments, and they are chilling in their impact on the reader. Some of his facts are overstated, particularly his inflation of the number of nuclear weapons in the world ”they are fewer than he states, but still ominous. The problem is actually worse than he describes in terms of the overwhelming numbers possessed by the United States compared to the rest of the world and in the more advanced levels of sophistication the United States possesses than any potential enemy.
Fundamental to his understanding is the importance for American policy to be directed toward balancing the injustice between rich and poor nations and his offer of multiple practical initiatives of The Carter Center as examples of what our government should be doing to address this imbalance.
Clearly Carter’s approach is reflective of the Democratic Party of which he is an unapologetic member and will likely be rejected by most fundamentalist Republicans, who are the primary villains of this work. But it is a book to be read and pondered by all. His critics should answer with a policy statement as thoroughly reflective of the biblical ethic as is this one.
Larry L. McSwain is professor of ethics and leadership at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta.