The Role of Faith in President Jimmy Carter's Life
This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Dec. 26, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
BRIT HUME, HOST: Former President Jimmy Carter may be one of the best-known evangelical Christians in the country. Since his term in the White House, Mr. Carter has founded the Peace Center and helped to build hundreds of houses for Habitat for Humanity. FOX News correspondent Jonathon Serrie talked with the former president about the role his faith has played in his life.
JONATHAN SERRIE, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, thank you so much for your time. We’re interested in speaking with you about religion. And you’ve described yourself both as a born-again Christian and as an evangelical, two terms that are often closely associated with the religious right. Are those unfair stereotypes, or are you unique?
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I’m not unique. I think almost every Baptist Christian with whom I grew up as a child and even the Methodists and the Lutherans and others who lived around my hometown considered themselves to be born again.
In the Book of John, when Christ was questioned by one of the Pharisees, he said, "You must be born again to have a new life as one of my followers." So being born again is just like breathing for us. It was a phrase that we used without question for the first 50 years of my existence. And then, of course, evangelical to me is someone who relates their experience with Christ and others in hopes that the other person will accept Christ as savior. So I look upon both these not as a matter of liberal versus consecutive, or fundamentalist versus progressive, or whatever, but as a standard description of someone who is a believer in Christ and who follows the Bible .
SERRIE: You mention your book, "Our Endangered Values." In that book, you say that you consider the separation of church and state not only to be a constitutional mandate but a biblical mandate. If you could elaborate…
CARTER: I just follow the words of Jesus Christ who said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s," which to me was an admonition from our savior to separate political affairs from religious affairs.
SERRIE: Were there ever times that you found it difficult drawing that line between your Christian beliefs and your secular public life?
CARTER: When I took my oath of office as president, I swore to uphold the laws and Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the Supreme Court. So I enforced Roe versus Wade, and I did it without embarrassment or anguish.
At the same time, I never have believed that Jesus Christ would approve abortions, with a few possible exceptions. I didn’t ever approve the use of federal funding, for instance, for abortions, and I tried everything I possibly could to discourage the need for abortions.
SERRIE: Abortion has always been a hot-button issue for evangelicals. Another one that you keep seeing in the headlines, gay marriage. What are your own personal views?
CARTER: My own belief is that there should be a distinction between so-called gay marriages, which I look upon as a possibility of a church- ordained blessing of God on a union, which I think should be between a man and a woman. But at the same time, that people who do have gay union in a court or in secular terms not relating to religion, should be treated with complete equality.
SERRIE: Going back to 1976, your now famous Playboy interview where you revealed you had lusted in your heart and not your actions, what were you trying to say with that statement?
CARTER: Well, I was asked by the Playboy interviewers, with whom I should have been more cautious, as he was leaving my house, "Since you are a born again evangelical Christian, I guess that means that you consider yourself to be superior to most of the other people in this country, that you’ve escalated yourself above others on a moral basis."
I said, "No, that’s not the case at all." And I was trying to explain to him some phrases from the Sermon on the Mount where Christ said that we shouldn’t distinguish between ourselves if our hearts are filled with hatred and compare ourselves favorably to someone who has actually committed murder. And we shouldn’t distinguish between ourselves who may have lusted for another woman outside of marriage and someone who has actually committed adultery. And I said, "That’s a distinction. Christ says, “Don’t judge others. Look at your own problems." And he said, "Well, have you ever committed adultery?" And I said no. He said, "Have you ever lusted after a woman outside of marriage?" I said yes. So that was the end of the interview. And then later when the Playboy magazine came out — still the best selling issue of Playboy in history — that was a big emphasis.
SERRIE: You became an active volunteer: Habitat for Humanity, the Carter Center , and other volunteer projects. Are these directly related to your faith, and how so?
CARTER: I really can’t say yes to that. When we’re building a house for Habitat, we’ll be joined by people who have a wide variety of religious faiths, or maybe even have no religious faith, working equally with enthusiasm to helping others. So I can’t say that when I do certain things it’s because I happen to be a Christian. No, I think those are attributes common to almost all human beings.
SERRIE: Looking back on your own spiritual journey, who would you say was the most influential?
CARTER: Among public figures, the one that I’ve had the most constant admiration for would be Billy Graham . He’s been constant, he’s been broad-minded, and he’s been forgiving. He’s been humble in his treatment of others; he’s reached out equally for opportunities to serve God, Christ, to men and women. As the Bible says, to Greek and Hebrew, to masters and slaves, without distinction. So I think Billy Graham.
SERRIE: What would you like to see as the future of religion in America?
CARTER: It’s inevitable in America that there will be factions in religion. In my own hometown, we have 635 people. We have eight different churches inside the city limits plus three on the outside, just for that small number of people.
We get along fine. There is no altercation or argument, there never has been in my lifetime, between Methodist and Baptist or Lutherans and so forth. The altercations on a national basis come quite often among schisms within a particular denomination. And they are caused most often by the socially sensitive subjects: abortion, homosexuality, death penalty, and so forth. This is what Paul told the troubled early churches when they were bringing in these all these extraneous social issues on an almost exact parallel to what we have now. Paul said, "Forget about those extra things on the religious basis. Let them be handled by governments and in the secular affairs. Remember in religion to bind yourselves together by faith to in Jesus Christ as a way for salvation." And this is what I hope we could do in the future because the more we remember that simple phrase then the more we’re drawn closer to Christ. And as we’re drawn closer to Christ, we get closer to one another.
SERRIE: President Carter, thank you so much. Merry Christmas.
CARTER: It’s a pleasure to talk to you.
Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. EST.
Content and Programming Copyright 2005 FOX News Network, L.L.C. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2005 eMediaMillWorks, Inc. (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon FOX News Network, L.L.C.'s and eMediaMillWorks, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.