Former President Jimmy Carter is a controversial figure here in America. But beyond being known in more conservative circles for his intriguing (sometimes troubling, depending with whom one is speaking) positions, he’s also distinguished himself with his outspoken Christianity.
His new book, “NIV Lessons from Life Bible: Personal Reflections with Jimmy Carter,” delves into some of the former president’s own lessons that he taught over the years during Sunday school at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plans, Georgia. These lessons are meshed together with text from the New International Version of the Bible.
In an interview published today with The Huffington Post to promote the book, the nation’s 39th president tackled some tough Biblical questions on slavery, homosexuality, women’s role in the Christian church and more. Carter, who has come under fire for his stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his positive comments about Occupy Wall Street movement, among other issues and statements, offered up some intriguing spiritual insight.
HuffPo’s Senior Religion Editor Paul Brandeis Raushenbush started the conversation by asking Carter if God wrote the Bible.
“God inspired the Bible but didn’t write every word in the Bible,” Carter responded. “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.”
When it came to addressing homosexuality, a contentious issue in many Christian circles, Carter talked about its historical nature and delved into his views on how civil ceremonies should be treated:
“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.”
Following this question, Raushenbush asked, “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?” This question was particularly timely, considering the controversy over atheist billboards in Pennsylvania that utilized this verse to rail against Christianity.
“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,” Carter explained. “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.”
Read the entire interview here.