Former President Jimmy Carter has announced that he has cancer and that it has spread to his brain. His time in office as the 39th president of the United States was pivotal in uncovering the relationship between religion and politics in the public sphere. On the campaign trail in 1976, he spoke openly about his personal faith, becoming one of the first presidential candidates to do so. Since then, every candidate has had to answer questions about his or her beliefs. Jimmy Carter — for better or worse — brought religion firmly into the American political process.
This edition of ReligionLink is intended to help reporters cover the impact Carter has had on Americans’ perceptions of Christianity. How did journalists cover religion in politics before he ran for office? How did Americans think about the religious beliefs of their presidents before and after his tenure? How will they respond to watching this deeply religious and very public man battle this illness and face its outcome? Speaking about his condition, he said: “I’m perfectly at ease with whatever comes. I do have a deep religious faith, which I’m very grateful for.”
Articles and stories:
- Read “Ailing Jimmy Carter ‘at Ease With Whatever Comes,’” by Alan Blinder and Richard Fausset for The New York Times, Aug. 20, 2015.
- Read “Former President Jimmy Carter Says He Has Cancer,” by Alan Blinder and Michael D. Shear on Aug. 12, 2015, for The New York Times.
- Read “Religion and human rights: An interview with President Jimmy Carter (part one)” and “Religion and human rights: An interview with President Jimmy Carter (part two)” by Jonathan Merritt for Religion News Service, July 1, 2013.
- The Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College maintains a biography page for Carter. It also maintains a page on evangelicals and politics that includes Carter’s role. The institute closed in December 2014, but its resources remain online.
- “God in America,” a PBS series from Frontline and American Experience, looks at the religious beliefs of presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama.
Carter’s writings on faith:
- Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President was a 1982 book.
- Living Faith is a 1996 book and his second spiritual memoir.
- Sources of Strength: Meditations on Scripture for a Living Faith is a 1997 book.
- An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood is Carter’s 2001 memoir. In it, he describes the faith of his childhood and of his mother, Miss Lillian.
- The Personal Beliefs of Jimmy Carter: Winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize is a compilation of his memoirs and his Bible lessons.
- Read “Losing my religion for equality,” an essay Carter wrote in 2009 on his decision to leave the Southern Baptist Convention after 60 years.
- NIV Lessons From Life Bible: Personal Reflections With Jimmy Carter is a 2012 book of Bible lessons by Carter.
- A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power is a 2014 book that examines religion-based inequality directed at women throughout the world.
The Carter Center in Atlanta is involved in human rights worldwide. Read the center’s May 14, 2004, publication “Human Rights Defenders on the Frontlines of Freedom: Protecting Human Rights in the Context of the War on Terror.”
- Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., is where Jimmy Carter teaches a very popular Sunday school class.
Randall Balmer holds the John Phillips Chair in Religion at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. He is an expert on American religious history and especially American evangelicalism and the role of religion in American presidential politics. He is the author of Evangelicalism in America, Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter and God in the White House: How Faith Shaped the Presidency From John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush.
Peter Bourne is a visiting senior research fellow at the University of Oxford in Oxford, England. He worked previously as an assistant secretary-general of the United Nations and is the author of the 1997 book Jimmy Carter: A Comprehensive Biography from Plains to Post-Presidency.
Brooks Flippen is a professor of history at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Okla., and a scholar of religion and American politics. He is the author of Jimmy Carter, the Politics of Family, and the Rise of the Religious Right.
Frye Gaillard is a writer in residence at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. He is the author of the 2009 biography “Prophet From Plains: Jimmy Carter and His Legacy.”
Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J. He is an American political historian and the author of the 2010 biography Jimmy Carter.
Michael Cromartie is vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., where he heads its Evangelicals in Civic Life program. He is also an expert on religious liberty and Christianity and politics. His books include, as editor, Religion and Politics in America: A Conversation.
John C. Green is a senior fellow at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, specializing in religion and American politics. He also serves as interim university president, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics and distinguished professor of political science at the University of Akron.
D. Michael Lindsay is a sociologist and the president of Gordon College, a Christian school in Wenham, Mass. His focus is on issues surrounding leadership, organizations and culture. He is a former Gallup consultant with an expertise on research about evangelicals. Lindsay is author of the 2007 book Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite and the 2014 book View From the Top: An Inside Look at How People in Power See and Shape the World.
Mark Noll is Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame and one of the most cited authorities today on evangelicalism in America. He co-founded the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College, where he taught for many years. Noll’s many books include America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln.
Mark Rozell is a professor of public policy at George Mason University in Arlington, Va., and co-editor of Religion and the American Presidency, Religion and the Bush Presidency and The Values Campaign?: The Christian Right and the 2004 Elections.
Gleaves Whitney is director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., and co-editor of Religion and the American Presidency.
Alan Wolfe is the founding director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College and a frequent commentator on religion and politics. His books include The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith, which focuses on the impact of evangelicals on American religious culture. He has written widely on secularism.