When I recently heard about Jimmy Carter entering into hospice care I was saddened. There is a whole range of thoughts that surround what is likely his final few days on earth. I’ll try to explain them.
As someone who was raised in the post-9/11 America where the Bush Dynasty dominated the GOP and the remnants of the Reagan years lived on as a golden age in the minds of the Tea Party Era, I was taught that Jimmy Carter didn’t do a single thing right when he was in office.
I may look at Carter’s resume and political positions and still say, “Yeah I disagree with him on a number of things,” but I’m most moved by a sadness for what we’re losing.
When Queen Elizabeth II passed away last year, it felt like the last true Christian monarch was lost and Christendom was fading from our memory. Similarly with Carter, it feels like we’re losing a truly kind, Southern gentleman. The last of his kind.
I’m sure that Carter’s rural Georgia upbringing was reminiscent of so many of our upbringings where God, family, and patriotic values were cherished in the home. That’s what makes his presidency so frustrating. Carter’s Democrat Party, by the time he became president, had already gone through progressive changes and looked nothing like his father’s Democrat Party.
Even theologically, Carter has been a participant and member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a liberal split-off group of the Southern Baptist Convention.
It just feels like Carter was swept up in the post-war liberal drift of his denomination and political party and abandoned the views of his conservative Southern tradition. Now, the very same members of Carter’s Democrat Party would view Carter (a straight, white, Christian, male) as the very problem with the society they created.
It’s sad, really. An entire tradition was co-opted by outside entities with the entire goal of antagonizing men like Carter and the nation that Carter’s ancestors built. Yet Carter remains within that same political party? It doesn’t make sense and is why I’ve called this blog “A Lament for Jimmy Carter.”
It didn’t have to be this way. Carter could have gone down in history as the figurehead of a movement that brought the Democrat Party back down to earth and firmly into the constitutional tradition of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. The kind of Democrat Party of the early 1800s that truly cared for constitutional order, the Bill of Rights, along with a kind of evangelicalism that informed Carter’s worldview. Honestly, that’s not too dissimilar than my current politics and worldview. Not the authoritarian secularism that’s found in the current edition of Carter’s Democrat Party.
In 1976 when Carter was elected, Time Magazine called 1976 “The Year of the Evangelical” where the Religious Right rallied around a truly born-again Christian presidential candidate, as opposed to the nominally Christian incumbent Republican Gerald Ford who was willing to play nice with the Deep State.
Jimmy Carter was truly a kind Christian man. I disagree with him on many things but instead of what some presidents do in retirement, he continued his life of mission work, philanthropy, and teaching Bible study in the same rural church he has attended for years.
We still live in an age where we ask our presidents and elected officials to act with dignity and kindness, and Carter has been that his entire life. Again, I disagree with many of the political and theological positions he would hold, but I still have little doubt that he would still view his chief calling as loving God and loving his neighbor. Jimmy Carter is the last of a truly kind, Southern Christian gentleman.