Former President Jimmy Carter said he believes that the Bible is divinely inspired, but the biblical writers did not understand facts now known from science, in a wide-ranging interview with Southern Baptist seminary president Albert Mohler.
Carter, described as the world’s most famous Sunday school teacher for Bible studies he led while in the White House and since then at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., said in a podcast interview released March 26 that the biblical authors’ assumptions like the earth was the center of the universe and that stars were small twinkling objects hanging in the sky are “obviously … not factual,” but that such “discrepancies” are “insignificant” in interpreting the Bible’s core meaning.
“I believe the basic thrust of the Bible, the basic message of the Bible, is epitomized in the life of Christ and in the teachings of Jesus Christ,” said Carter, whose latest book, The Lessons from Life Bible, recently hit bookstore shelves.
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., was a member of the study committee that drafted the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, the statement that Carter has said was behind his decision to renounce his lifelong ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, especially its prohibition of women serving as pastors.
One of the revisions that committee made to the 1963 version of the Baptist Faith and Message was to remove a sentence, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ,” because it allowed latitude for rejection of a theory of inspiration known as biblical inerrancy.
Carter admitted to being “kind of selective” when it comes to the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality.
“I really turn almost exclusively to the teachings of Jesus Christ, who never mentioned homosexuality at all as a sin,” Carter said. “He never condemned homosexuals and so I don’t condemn homosexuals. And our church, our little church in Plains, we don’t ask, when people come to join our church, if they’re gay or not. We don’t ordain, we don’t practice marriage between gay couples in our church, but that’s a Baptist privilege of autonomy of local churches.”
Carter said he had “one problem” in balancing his faith and public service while in office over the issue of abortion. While he never believed that Jesus would approve of abortion, Carter said his duties as president required that he comply with the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade that declared most abortions a private matter between a woman and her physician. Because of his religious beliefs, however, he said he set out to impliment everything he could to minimize the need for abortion by liberalizing adoption laws and starting a program still in existence called Woman and Infant Children to help poor women care for their children after they are born.
Carter said he believes faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation, but he doesn’t necessarily believe that people who never have opportunity to hear the gospel are condemned to hell. He also said he feels “very strongly, in the eyes of God, women are equal to men.”