‘The most important thing in my life,’ Carter declared in 1976, ‘is Jesus Christ.’ Christ’s admonition to ‘love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself,’ the Democrat argued, served as the foundation for his life. (Footnote 1). Jimmy Carter, president of the United States from 1977 to 1981, was one of the nation’s most religiously devout presidents. None of the president of the United States had never been more energized and vocalized about one’s faith.
One may be puzzled by how the America, built upon the Bill of Rights, where on its first amendment specifically stated: the ‘separation of church and state” paraphrased from Thomas Jefferson and used by others in expressing an understanding of the intent and function of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Yet there is an ever presence of religious manner in a normally hardhead world of diplomacy, especially in American diplomacy (footnote, sword). Religion goes beyond its traditional role of answering or serving the faith of one’s belief and extends beyond individual consciousness.
As Emile Durkheim’s work on religion: religion is an expression of our collective consciousness, which is the fusion of all of our individual consciousness, which then creates a reality of its own (footnote 22 emile). Religion has been integral to American politics and culture and to American’s sense of itself. It has played an important role in shaping American perceptions of the world and in contributing to domestic debates on how the United States should engage with other nations (footnote pg 4 sword).
Through analyzing the life of Jimmy Carter, this essay will describe the role Carter’s Christian convictions played in his philosophy of government, especially on his foreign policy. I wish to illuminate how Carter’s faith strongly influenced his quest for peace and promotion of human rights. More specifically, Carter’s campaign on his negotiation of the Camp David Accord illustrate how his Christian commitment helped shape his foreign policy. As Andrew Preston argues ‘religion in America, largely but of course not exclusively, acting upon a religious impulse, pushed the government not only to be a citizen of the world, but to be a model citizen'(fn 9 sword) exemplifies how the religion is invisible but ubiquitous in the American government.
Before we analyze how Camp David Accord reflected Carter’s quest for peace and promotion of human rights, we must examine Carter’s early life as a devote Christian. It is an understatement to call Carter as one of the most famous evangelicals in the world as he is a man whose faith defined not only his policies but also his character. At a young age of 11, he publicly exclaimed his faith in Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and Lord, and later baptized in the Southern Congressional Church. He would regularly attend the Southern Baptist Sunday school, visited services, and worshiped to Jesus Christ reverently in Plains, Georgia. Carter would later be officially decreed as a deacon in 1958 to governed, lead public prayers, and preach lay sermons at his home church. While serving as the governing office in Southern Baptist congregation, Carter’s failure to win the Democratic nomination for governor in 1966 triggered him to reassess his faith. Challenged by a sermon titled ‘If You Were Arrested for Being a Christian, Would There Be Enough Evidence to Convict You?’ and conversations with his sister, evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton, he vowed to serve others devoutly and to be of service to Christ. Reading the Bible ‘with new interest’ and sharing gospel throughout several religious conferences, Carter would become ‘uniquely aware of the Holy Spirit as an integral part of my life’. Carter would always emphasize Jesus Christ’s admonition to ‘love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself,’ as a foundation for his life (ft). As a president, Carter repeatedly proclaimed ‘there is no way to understand me and my political philosophy, without understanding my faith’ Even during his presidency, Carter would repeatedly assert that he was a born-again Christian who prayed constantly and read the Bible every day. He worshipped every Sunday either across various churches in the United States or abroad, such as special services at Camp David. Through his term, Carter relied on prayer to help guide him in his political responsibilities and insisted that God’s help was a necessity to pave through the rugged world of politics. Carter explained that when he prayed he asked three key questions: ‘Are my goals appropriate?’; ‘Am I doing the right thing, based on my personal moral code, my Christian faith, and the duties of my current position?’; and, ‘Have I done my best, based on the alternatives open to me?’ Like other southern evangelicals, Carter believed in the sinfulness of human beings, the deity of Christ, the need for accepting Christ as Savior and Lord, the importance of evangelism, and the authority of the Bible. However, he drew on various range of intellectual influences to help shape his perspective on ‘Christian political involvement, the need for collective humility, the notion that love should be translated into justice, and the tension between idealism and realism.’
Carter’s Christian worldview was constructed by his family, educational, and religious background and his varied life experiences in the military, business, and politics. He was a southerner, a populist, a Democrat, an engineer, a Washington outsider, and a Baptist evangelical. However, Carter frequently argued that his faith affected all his thoughts and actions and could not possibly be separated from his work as president. He insisted that Christians must apply their faith to all public life including politics. It is undeniable that Carter’s faith was a huge hand into shaping his political philosophy and policies. Carter’s Christian values strongly affected how he functioned as president’his goals, policies, and relationship with leaders of other nations, his cabinet, his staff, and the public. During the 1976 campaign, he promised that if elected president ‘I would ask God for guidance on decisions affecting our country.’ All Christians, whether they were ‘physicists or engineers or farmers or Governors or Presidents,’ Carter contended, had an obligation to base their nation’s standards and practices on those ‘set for us by Jesus Christ.’ Carter asserted that he could function as a Christian president because the United States had continually sought to know and do the will of God. ‘Biblical moral standards,’ he pronounced, should serve as guide post in both interpersonal and international relationships. He futher proclaimed that government principles and policies should follow ‘the standards set for us by Jesus Christ.’18 He maintained that God had created the United States in part ‘to set an example for the rest of the world’ by providing human rights and equality of opportunity.19 Carter strove to full the nation’s ‘deepest moral and religious commitments’ to dedicate as a nation clearly to a basic moral and philosophical principle. As a superpower, Carter propelled the United States to use its resources to help and preserve peace around the world. Carter claimed that the Bible established the basis for and major responsibilities of the modern state. The Old Testament, he wrote, taught that government is based on ‘a voluntary covenant rather than force’the idea of equality before the law and the supremacy of the law over the whims of any ruler.’23 He further asserted that ‘We should try to assure that secular law is compatible with God’s laws.’24 The Scriptures exhorted people to alleviate hunger, suffering, deprivation, and discrimination, promote peace, and foster human rights.25 Therefore, Carter avowed, his faith could properly play an important role in the political decisions he made.