Friday, March 23, 2012

President Jimmy Carter Talks About the Bible In A Surprising Way

I have never been a fan of President Carter. His Presidency was an unmitigated disaster, and as an ex-President he has often meddled in foreign affairs in a manner that has complicated them for a sitting President.

New International Version Bible
Lessons From Life
By Jimmy Carter
Yet, I do have to give him credit for the courage of his convictions. He has never been afraid to speak up and speak out. Mr. Carter taught a Sunday School Class in his Southern Baptist Church for many years. Baptists are not well known for their tolerance on matters of sexuality. Neither are the known for having a rational view of the Bible. The courage of his convictions led him to leave the Southern Baptist Church after it began to radicalize in the 1960's. Eventually many Baptist Churches disassociated themselves from their more radical brothers in the Southern Baptist Convention and formed new Baptist Churches which are not as politically or fundamentally minded and in which the traditional stance of the Baptist Church that each man is his own priest has been reinstated. It is from this traditional Baptist doctrine that President Carter speaks.

The follow interview with President Carter was posted in the Huffington Post on March 19, 2012. I found it both interesting and surprising. If President Carter, as a Baptist Sunday School Teacher has an open mind on homosexuality, and apparently he does, it is a huge indicator of the progress which is being made to bring about not only equal rights and equal protections under the law for homosexual people, but also an indicator of the acceptance of homosexuality as a normal expression of human sexuality in the collective minds of the average American.

The interview with President Carter touches only briefly on homosexuality itself, but the general attitudes of tolerance and reason which Carter expresses throughout the interview should be a breath of fresh air for those who only know the fundamental unreasoning face of Christianity. It should be of particular interest to those homosexual guys who feel there is a divide between their faith and their sexuality.

If  you're a guy who is struggling with his homosexuality or his bisexuality, I hope you find the interview with President Carter encouraging and comforting. There is no doubt that Carter is a Bible scholar. That he has an open mind on homosexuality is a bellwether of the change that is taking place in this country in the way the average citizen looks at homosexuality.

For religious guys who struggle with the religious implications of their homosexuality, the attitude that Carter expresses should unequivocally point out that not all Christians see homosexuality as an abomination or even as a sin. Those who struggle with their sexuality and their religious faith should also be comforted that Cater, even as a fundamentalist, understands that the Bible is not the literal word of God.

Caters interview is proof that one can be both highly educated and still be a person of faith and reason.

"NIV" in the bio adjacent to President Carter's picture refers to the New International Version of the Bible. Many Baptists, as well as other fundamental groups who see the King James version of the Bible as the literal word of God have rejected the NIV. It is interesting to see that President Carter has not.

President Jimmy Carter Authors New Bible Book, Answers Hard Biblical Questions

Jimmy Carter served as the 39th president of the United States, founded the Carter Center and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. President Carter is also a Sunday School teacher and has followed that avocation since his earliest years. In this interview, HuffPost's Senior Religion Editor Paul Brandeis Raushenbush spoke to President Carter by phone about the hardest questions presented in the Bible: from gays, science, the role of women, slavery passages and more. The former president offered answers to each of them with the insights and spiritual wisdom he has included in his latest book: "NIV Lessons from Life Bible: Personal Reflections with Jimmy Carter."
Paul Brandeis Raushenbush: Thank you so much for talking with me President Carter. As I warned, I am going to be asking the tough questions. So ... Did God write the Bible?
President Jimmy Carter: God inspired the Bible but didn’t write every word in the Bible. We know, for instance that stars can’t fall on the earth, stars are much larger than the earth. That was a limitation of knowledge of the universe or physics, or astronomy at that time, but that doesn’t bother me at all.
How do you approach the passages in the Bible that talk about God’s creation (Genesis 1:1) while maintaining a positive attitude towards science?
I happen to have an advantage there because I am a nuclear physicist by training and a deeply committed Christian. I don’t have any doubt in my own mind about God who created the entire universe. But I don’t adhere to passages that so and so was created 4000 years before Christ, and things of that kind. Today we have shown that the earth and the stars were created millions, even billions, of years before. We are exploring space and sub-atomic particles and learning new facts every day, facts that the Creator has known since the beginning of time.
What do you say to those who point to certain scriptures that women should not teach men or speak in church? (1 Corinthians 1:14)
I separated from the Southern Baptists when they adopted the discriminatory attitude towards women, because I believe what Paul taught in Galatians that there is no distinction in God’s eyes between men and women, slaves and masters, Jews and non-Jews -– everybody is created equally in the eyes of God.
There are some things that were said back in those days –- Paul also said that women should not be adorned, fix up their hair, put on cosmetics, and that every woman who goes in a place of worship should have her head covered. Paul also said that men should not cut their beards and advocated against people getting married, except if they couldn’t control their sexual urges. Those kinds of things applied to the customs of those days. Every worshipper has to decide if and when they want those particular passages to apply to them and their lives
A lot of people point to the Bible for reasons why gay people should not be in the church, or accepted in any way.
Homosexuality was well known in the ancient world, well before Christ was born and Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. In all of his teachings about multiple things -– he never said that gay people should be condemned. I personally think it is very fine for gay people to be married in civil ceremonies.

I draw the line, maybe arbitrarily, in requiring by law that churches must marry people. I’m a Baptist, and I believe that each congregation is autonomous and can govern its own affairs. So if a local Baptist church wants to accept gay members on an equal basis, which my church does by the way, then that is fine. If a church decides not to, then government laws shouldn’t require them to.

What about passages saying slaves obey your masters? (Colossians 3:22) Do you think there is ever a time to say, ok, we know that we don’t agree with that passage, let's get rid of it?

Well, the principles of that are still applicable. It wasn’t a matter that the Bible endorses slavery, it was that throughout history, now and in the future there are going to be some who are in a subservient position like when I was commanding officer of a ship when I was in the submarine corps. It is meant to preserve the basic principles that don’t cause resentment or hatred or betrayal or false attitudes. But it also says that a master should respect your servant. So, it works both ways.

Jesus says I am the way the truth and the life (John 14:6). How can you remain true to an exclusivist faith claim while respecting other faith traditions?

Jesus also taught that we should not judge other people (Matthew 7:1), and that it is God who judges people, so I am willing to let God make those judgments, in the ultimate time whenever it might come. I think ‘judge not that you be not judged’ is the best advice that I will follow. Maybe it is a rationalization, but it creates a lack of tension in my mind about that potential conflict.

There are many verses in the Bible that you could interpret very rigidly and that makes you ultimately into a fundamentalist. When you think you are better than anybody else -- that you are closer to God than other people, and therefore they are inferior to you and subhuman -- that leads to conflict and hatred and dissonance among people when we should be working for peace.

There is a scripture passage attributed to Jesus “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth, I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew: 10:34) How do you interpret that, in light of your basic belief in Jesus as the Prince of Peace?

For the last 35 or more years, my wife and I have read the Bible last thing every night and just last week we read that passage and discussed it a little bit. What Christ was saying was that when we have conflict in our mind or hearts, between our secular duties and teachings of Christ, we should put the teachings of Christ first.
He was predicting what would happen, that his teachings might cause divisions among people as they decided to follow God’s ordained duties such as peace, humility, service to others, alleviation of suffering, forgiveness -- when we face those conflicts, we should adhere to the principles that never change, to the moral values that are taught through religion.

Should we approach the Bible literally, or metaphorically?
When we go to the Bible we should keep in mind that the basic principles of the Bible are taught by God, but written down by human beings deprived of modern day knowledge. So there is some fallibility in the writings of the Bible. But the basic principles are applicable to my life and I don’t find any conflict among them.
The example that I set in my private life is to emulate what Christ did as he faced people who were despised like the lepers or the Samaritans. He reached out to them, he reached out to poor people, he reached out to people that were not Jews and treated them equally. The more despised and the more in need they were, the more he emphasized that we should go to and share with them our talent our ability, our wealth, our influence. Those are the things that guide my life and when I find a verse in the Bible that contradicts those things that I just described to you, I put into practice the things that I derive from my faith in Christ

If you are a guy struggling with his sexuality and a new reader of this blog, I urge you to use the blog archive which you will find in the right hand column to look up previous posts in this blog in which I have written at length and in great detail about some of the same questions President Carter answered in the Huffington Post interview above.

Jack Scott

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I deeply regret that I must reinstate the verification process for those who want to leave comments on my blog. This is due to the intolerable amount of spam that spammers are attempting to leave on the blog.

At the same time I am changing settings so that those of you who have a Google Blogger ID or other recognized blogger ID will not have to have your comments moderated. My hope is this will encourage more readers to take the time to comment. The fact is I want to read comments with those of you who disagree with me as well as those of you who agree with me. All I ask is that you keep your comments clean and non-threatening.

The only reason I take the time to write this blog is to spur your thoughts and comments. Please do not let the spammers cause you not to comment. I know entering the verification words and numbers is a pain in the ass, but I hope you will not let the spammers cause you not to comment.

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Jack Scott

Anyone can comment on what I write in this blog. Regretfully, the recent amount of spam in my email account as required that I reinstate the word verification process for comments which I personally hate.

But at the same time I have loosened the comment moderation process so that those of you who have a Google Blogger ID or other recognized blogger ID will no longer need to wait for your comment to be moderated. I'm hoping this will tempt you to take the trouble to comment.

The truth is I want respectful comments both from those who agree with me and those who do not. All I as is that you keep comments to the point, clean and non-threatenting.

I look forward to hearing from each of you.

Jack Scott