Culture At Large

Jimmy Carter, at 90, on small churches, Bob Dylan and same-sex marriage

Josh Larsen

One of America’s most publicly Christian presidents, Jimmy Carter has continued to act in accordance with his faith since leaving the Oval Office in 1980. In his work with the Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity especially, he’s heeded the Bible’s call to meet the needs of the suffering.

Carter recently gave an interview to The Atlantic on the occasion of his 27th book, A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety. In the Q&A, he spoke candidly about a variety of topics, including his own brand of evangelism. Some excerpts:

On how many people he’s personally led to Christ:I would say several hundred. I’ve been on Christian mission programs for the Southern Baptist Convention - to Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, other places like that. I’d spend a whole week, or 10 days, just going from one house to another explaining the plan of salvation to people who did not have any faith. A lot of them have accepted Christ. I teach a Bible lesson every Sunday when I’m at home. I taught this past Sunday, and I’ll teach next Sunday as well. We have only about 30 members of our church who attend our services - it’s a small church. But we have several hundred visitors who come - sometimes it’s as high as 800. Most of the time, though, it’s in the 200 range. Many tell me they’ve never been to a church before. I don’t have any doubt that a few of them, maybe every Sunday, decide to accept the lessons that I teach.”

On talking religion with Bob Dylan: “Bob Dylan and I have been very close friends since I was governor. I first met him when he was going through an era of deep Christian faith. When he performed once in Atlanta, he wanted to spend some time talking to me about my faith. His band came to the governor’s mansion and stayed with my boys. Bob and I spent a long time in the garden that night just talking about matters concerning theology and religion and so forth. Earlier this year, when Bob Dylan got the Person of the Year award at the Grammys, he said he would accept the award in Hollywood only if I came out and presented it to him. So I went out there and was able to be with Bob again. He’s been to Georgia one time since, and I took my family to hear him perform.”

On the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of same-sex marriage: “I think this is an individual decision to be made. I personally have always been in favor of people who are gay being permitted to marry legally - and I still feel that way. I support the decision that the Supreme Court made just recently on that subject. However, I have never believed that the government ought to have the right to intrude into the internal affairs of a local congregation. If, for instance, at my church we decide we do not want to perform gay marriages, the federal authorities ought to stay out of that church affair and let the couple who seeks marriage go to a civil court or go to another church. That would be my one caveat.”

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Faith, Evangelism, News & Politics, History, Politics