Former President Carter teaches during Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., on Dec. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)

A Bible study led by 92-year-old Jimmy Carter is a sight to behold

PLAINS, Ga. (RNS) — We wake at 5 a.m. because we are told everyone in our hotel has come for the same reason —  to see 92-year-old Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, conduct Bible study at Maranatha Baptist Church.

An hour later, still 45 minutes before sunrise, my wife and I, along with her brother and his wife, are driving 10 miles west from Americus to Plains.

The man handing out numbers at Maranatha Baptist says that, at 6:25 a.m., we are car No. 72, and he reckons that 160 people will stand in line ahead of us.

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About 7:45 a.m., we line up, by car number, in a swarm of gnats.

At the front door, I empty my pockets and a Secret Service agent waves a wand across my front and backside.

Once inside, I give thanks for air conditioning and the absence of gnats.

Greeting visitors in the foyer is Maranatha’s 23-year-old minister, Brandon Patterson, who was hired just two months earlier and won’t graduate from the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University in Atlanta until December.

Guests take photos of former President Jimmy Carter at the beginning of a Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga. Screenshot from YouTube


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The occupants of car No. 1 are seated in the front row of the sanctuary.

We are ushered to awkwardly visible seats in the second row of the two-row choir loft behind the pulpit, our backs up against a stone wall on which a cross is displayed.

The sanctuary fills quickly, as does an overflow room with video screens.

At about 8:30 a.m., a church volunteer announces that the “the other J.C.” will arrive in about an hour.

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Waiting are many of Maranatha’s 130 members, along with a few hundred visitors from across the U.S. and the three young women seated in front of us who are from China.

At 9:50 a.m., Rosalynn Carter, who turns 90 in August, takes a seat in the fifth row along the wall to my right.

A few minutes later, Jimmy walks in, his weathered face smiling, microphone in hand.

Former President Jimmy Carter teaches during Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., where he has taught for decades. Screenshot from YouTube


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Today, he says, we’ll be reviewing “one of the most difficult sections of the Bible.”

Carter asks if there are ministers or missionaries present. Three stand, and Carter asks one to deliver an opening prayer.

Before turning to the Old Testament Book of Ezekiel, Carter gives an update on his health. Ten days earlier, he collapsed due to dehydration during a Habitat for Humanity home build in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“I had excellent treatment in Canada ... free of charge,” Carter says, eliciting chuckles, but “my Atlanta doctors” have me wearing a heart monitor, which makes sleeping uncomfortable.

He moves on to recent work at the Carter Center, a meeting of Latin American dignitaries that discussed the dismal situation in Venezuela and improving conditions in Colombia.

As for Ezekiel, he was “the bearer of bad news,” sent by God to tell the Israelites that they are responsible for their tribulations, for their disloyalty.

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Personal accountability is the theme of Carter’s 30-minute talk, delivered without notes.

Carter recalls his interview as a young naval officer with the imposing Adm. Hyman Rickover, “the smartest man I’ve ever known.”

When asked “Did you always do your best?” Carter felt obligated to respond, “No, sir,” certain (incorrectly, as it turned out) that this would end his chance to join Rickover’s program to develop nuclear-powered submarines.

After detouring to his election as president in 1976 — when “everything was going bad for our country” — Carter connects the lamentations and fears of Ezekiel’s time to our time, as people search for purpose, for joy in their lives.

From one perspective, he suggests, Jesus’ life was a failure. His message was rejected by the religious authorities of his day and he was betrayed by disciples and crucified by the Romans.

Dave Schechter and his wife, Audrey Galex, stand for a photo with Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter after a Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga. The Carters always finish Sunday school classes by taking photos with anyone who wants one. Photo courtesy of Dave Schechter

Carter suggests redefining what constitutes a successful life. “What kind of a person do I want to be?” he poses. “We make decisions about what kind of person we want to be and how we want to live the rest of our lives.”

Carter concludes with counsel that the acceptance of Jesus “is the key to a full and fruitful and happy and peaceful life.”

After a 10-minute interlude filled by the church organist, the Carters return and take third-row seats to my left, among members of Maranatha Baptist. You might take them to be any elderly couple attending church.

Except for the earpiece-wearing (and presumably armed) Secret Service agent sitting behind them.

During the singing of Hymn 217, “Oh, How I Love Jesus,” I wonder if either Carter has noticed that the fellow fourth from the right in the second row behind the pulpit isn’t singing.

After the invocation, comes Hymn 132, “There is Power in the Blood.”

There is power, power, wonder-working power

In the blood of the Lamb;

There is power, power, wonder-working power

In the precious blood of the Lamb.

I may not be an observant Jew, but the numerous references to the blood of Jesus make me a bit uncomfortable.

Both Carters smile broadly as Lillian Pickett, who is a couple of months older than Jimmy, belts out the hymn “He’s a Battle Axe.”

Patterson enthusiastically delivers a sermon titled “The Best News,” which, no surprise, is that Jesus’ message is the best news anyone can receive.

It’s past 11 a.m., I’ve not eaten and I am worried about nodding off, and my head smacking that stone wall behind me, in full view of the congregation -- and the cameras recording the service.

Former President Jimmy Carter teaches during Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga. Screenshot from YouTube


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

I am grateful for the benediction.

Knowing what was coming next makes it no less astounding.

The Carters sit on stools, and have their picture taken with every visitor, a line that snakes through the sanctuary and into the overflow room.

I stand on Rosalynn’s right and my wife on Jimmy’s left as a volunteer, using my wife’s phone, takes several shots in rapid succession.

After returning home to Atlanta, the pictures we share fascinate our family and friends, most of whom had no idea that this nonagenarian, house-building, election-monitoring, disease-eradicating ex-president also teaches in church on numerous Sundays before hundreds of visitors, who, like ourselves, leave nothing short of amazed.

(Dave Schechter is a freelance writer who worked for 26 years coordinating U.S. news coverage at CNN. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service)

Comments

  1. Jimmy Carter, a Georgia boy done good.

  2. Terribly ineffective president, outstanding human being.

  3. What a different world it would be if he won a second term…

  4. I agree in large measure with your statement, but I have been troubled by certain shifts in his perspective theologically speaking. Still no one is perfect and certainly not I.

  5. I know very little about Jimmy Carter being President, and only know about the things he does with Habitat for Humanity, and his work on helping people and situations around the world. What a fine example of the Christian religion he is in my opinion. I put him on par with Billy Graham for being a good example of Christianity. I think if more Christians were like him Christianity would have a better reputation.

    Everything I’ve read says he’s remained a humble man and he very much loves his wife as she does him. Of our living Presidents, he would be the one I would be honored to meet.

    As I’ve heard historians like Doris Kearns Goodwin say, a President’s legacy takes many decades to come into balance and perspective. So I’ll reserve judgment on that.

  6. Doesn’t sound like much of a Bible Study Class. Does Carte know he’s not running for anything?

  7. Supporting leftist causes in direct contradiction of Scripture is neither admirable nor commendable! With all due respect, Mr. President is more believable teaching political science in a college rather than Bible doctrine in a church! 2Corinthians 11:14,15!

  8. Jimmy’s always been about “Humble Jimmy”.

  9. Yes, Jimmy Carter has turned out to be one of the best EX-presidents we’ve ever had. I got to see him once at a ceremony at Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX. He’s physically much smaller than I expected, but unfailingly gracious. Another surprise of that visit was to turn around and find standing near to me Luci Baines Johnson, wearing academic robes emblazoned with red, the color of religious studies. She had also come to hear President Carter. Amazing that he drew such a diverse crowd!

  10. The jury’s still out on whether we recover from 8 years of Obama!

  11. President Carter’s failure was, remarkably, much like Donald Trump’s. He was a Washington outsider, and mistakenly thought he could simply order the Congress to act by presidential fiat. I also think his own character betrayed him; because he felt (feels) so strongly about human rights, he expected that everyone else would, too. The machinations of politics and politicians undid him.

  12. I always thought he was to morally and ethically upstanding for the role of president. Especially coming after Nixon and Ford.

    Its easy to understand why he was elected at the time. But electing people in reaction to disappointment and anger doesn’t usually lead to good choices in leaders.

  13. I wonder if Jimmy Carter speaks about Jesus and his feelings about HIS children being ripped out of their Mothers wombs and cut into pieces at the hands of HIS policies and the other DEMOCRATS he supports this man is an absolute monster!

  14. Jesus is not the LORD of abortion Gay marriage or assisted suicide!!

  15. You mean a bible study by a CFR, Trilateralist, One-Worlder? THAT bible study?? Oh, wait…

  16. Um, I got news for you. He was HAND-PICKED by David Rockefeller and Zbig in ’74 to run…NO ONE ‘elected’ him…

  17. Waaay over your head. He was pre-selected by Elites, then sold to the American sucke….er….’voters’….

  18. Sorry about that. I primarily use tinfoil for cooking, not headwear.

  19. Can’t help it if you are too brain dead to research PRIMARY historical sources. I know ‘Dancing with the Stars’ is MORE important….

  20. LOL! “Primary sources” is online speak for “I am making stuff up that can’t possibly be verified in a discussion board.

    Now be careful of those contrails and Illuminati hit squads.

    Keep in mind, that vast conspiracy controlling everything, I work for them. My employers are currently tracking your IP address as we speak. The more you reply, the closer their agents can be to your location.

  21. Not doing BASIC research FOR you. You ever read the global players’ OWN writings i.e. Zbig, Rockefeller et al??? Guess not. Too bad you go through life truly witless and uninforned. Bring em ON Numty!!

  22. The sick evil “America” that refers to deserves to die.

  23. We’re all better off, except the plutocrats and white supremacists.

  24. It’s hilarious to observe the gnashing of teeth of the right-wing extremists here. Since they voted for a man who will supersede Warren G. Harding as what my 9th grade history teacher, a retired Calvinist Presbyterian Army Chaplain and rock solid Republican) referred to as “the most immoral man ever in the White House, ” memories of a man who is at the opposite end of the ethical spectrum is painful to them.

  25. SH-WEEET, I mean, Simply sweet, Dave Schechter. Except for this:

    “I may not be an observant Jew, but the numerous references to the BLOOD OF JESUS make me a bit uncomfortable” – when, “after the invocation, comes Hymn 132, ‘There is Power in the Blood.'”

    So how come this one doesn’t “make (you) a bit uncomfortable”, then?

    When “92-year-old Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States … concludes with counsel that the acceptance of JESUS ‘is the key to a full and fruitful and happy and peaceful life.'”

    Nor this:

    When the Baptist church “Maranatha’s 23-year-old minister, Brandon Patterson … enthusiastically delivers a sermon titled ‘The Best News,’ which, no surprise, is that JESUS’ message is the best news anyone can receive.”

    O I know why. It’s because you just “may … be an observant Jew” after all – kind of? No? Well, then, it must be just a “Jew”-ish thing that’s all, such that JESUS wouldn’t bother you “a bit”, but the shedding of HIS BLOOD for the forgiveness of the sins of Israel and the rest of the world, would?

  26. You’re the go-to person on this forum, sister Cynthia Astle. I recognize you with authority on brother Jimmy Carter unlike many here. So correct me if I’m mistaken. But weren’t The-81%’s predecessors part of those “machinations”? I think they got jealous of the Evangelicals voting for the guy, saying, No, no, no, you’ve got the wrong man in the White House. But just you wait. See Ronald Reagan over there in California? He’s our man. In the meantime we and our GOP buddies are going to do a number on Carter. Playboy, Iran, liberal Christianity, you name it.

  27. Nope, don’t believe he’ll supersede Harding, Kennedy, or Clinton, all men who led with other organs beside their brains, yet still are considered “great” men by left wing-extremists who idolize a man who wasted so much of tax-payer money without much to show for it. Solyndra comes to mind.
    Carter may have been incompetent, but we can say he was a moral man, who didn’t do much to make America great.

  28. Mwahahahah! Silly online poster without a handle. Who do you think published those writing?

    How long did you think you could evade us online? It was just a matter if time before THEY took notice!

  29. Yeah – remember who followed him and got to write the “story” of his Presidency. I have the feeling that later analyses will be much more fair and kind to Carter. Reagan’s Presidency was a disaster that set us on the course to where we are today. Like 45, Reagan spent a lot of energy undoing what Carter had done – out of sheer petty spite – such as taking the new solar panels off the WH. i invite you and others to do more research into Carter’s term rather than listening to bromides and “conventional wisdom” and Republican spin.

  30. Thanks for completely deflecting off topic and bringing up irrelevancies. Not.

  31. How gracious of you to acknowledge your lack of perfection – and with such humility, too!
    President Carter has only become a BETTER Christian year by year – can’t imagine what you are referring to or why anyone should care what is “troubling” to you.

  32. No, YOU can say that – right along with all the other baloney you’re spewing. Keep on drinking that poisoned Kool-Aid. Solyndra – oh, my gosh you racist fool.

  33. You got all that right! Still trying to find someone who can speak coherently about all the terrible things Obama did – and the only thing I can figure out is that he is a black man. Is he perfect? Of course not! Not progressive enough for me – not happy with his foreign policy in ways. And the biggest mistake he made was not forcing through a Supreme Court nominee or making a recess appointment to the Court. However, he brought us out of a terrible financial situation pretty well (I shudder to think of what the McCain-Palin presidency/vp would have wrought).

  34. I’m sure you can get help for your obsession. Really.

  35. Ah, yes, just throw down a Christian Bible reference as if that just explains everything! There are many, many, many Bible scholars, ministers and laypeople who think Jimmy Carter is a fine example of a Christian. More than otherwise, I imagine. But you go right on JUDGING – because of course Jesus didn’t say much about that, did he. Beam:Eye. Read up on it.

  36. I have every right to express a philosophical or theological concern with respect to anyone who professes Christianity, it is both a responsibility and function of the faith. Whether you personally care is a matter of no account to me. I made what I considered a moderate and reasonable comment with respect to the former chief executive. If RNS considers a story newsworthy, the purpose of this forum is to allow thoughtful people to comment on the narrative. Clearly, my comment struck a nerve somewhere, but that does not necessarily reflect on me.

  37. The hostages, stagflation and the oil crisis were legitimately difficult situations that didn’t do Carter any favors as a president. The Camp David Accords are a fine legacy. History has been kinder to him over the years. But he is still going to be in the bottom third in terms of greatness. Somewhere below the mediocre but above the atrocious.

  38. Dammit, you are making me break character! I was having fun playing direct to redbox low budget thriller villain.

    You have no sense of fun. 🙂

  39. It may be helpful to your blood pressure to understand the phrase, “your mileage may vary”.

  40. I don’t believe Harding was considered great by left-wingers. He continued the Red scare instituted by Wilson. Kennedy, like Clinton and Obama, was a mainstream corporatist Democrat. Because of my aversion to dynasties, I never thought that much of him but his short tenure as President was certainly no worse than middle range. Lyndon Johnson, in contrast, was one of the five greatest with Liincoln, Washington, and both Roosevelts, with Monroe and Polk in close 6th and 7th places. Clinton also falls in the middle range. Solandrya was a minor scandal under Bush II and Obama. The five worst were Reagan, Bush II, Buchanan, Pierce, and Hayes, with B. Harrison, Tyler, Fillmore and A. Johnson rounding spots 6-10. Second best 5ht through tenth were Truman, Obama, Cleveland, Taft, and Madison. Jefferson falls into the middle range – great man but poor President. Adams pere, ditto. Cleveland and Bush I were good, but superceded by the others. Garfield and Arthur, close behind. W.H. Harrison and Taylor are usually omitted from these lists due to their short tenures. In terms of waste, Reagan, Bush II, Wilson, Van Buren, and McKinley were the worst.

  41. No one I would want to teach me the bible.

    “Former President Jimmy Carter, in a new interview with the pro-abortion Huffington Post, said he thinks Jesus would be okay with some abortions. Specifically, Carter thinks Jesus would accept killing babies in abortions in cases of women who are victims of rape or incest.

    According to a Newsbusters report, Carter was first asked about his views on the issue of gay marriage and then, voluntarily, switched to discussing abortion. Here’s more from Newsbusters along with a video:

    About half way through the interview on Huffington Post Live, Carter was asked his opinion of gay marriage, to which he gave the obligatory, “That’s no problem with me. You know, I think everybody should have the right to get married regardless of their sex.”

    Carter then switched to the topic of abortion, noting his not-quite-pro-choice stance. He supported this by saying that Jesus would not approve of abortion, except in cases of rape and incest (because suddenly God wouldn’t care about the inherent value of a life in these instances, of course).

    From Life Site News STEVEN ERTELT JUL 8, 2015

  42. no mention of his virulent anti -semitism?

  43. right right, you kidding me? so your 9th grade history teacher never heard of….woodrow wilson the racist? fdr? jfk? lbj? little willie bill the convicted rapist bill clinton? must of been the WORST 9th grade history teacher in world history.

  44. bwahahaah really????? 20% + interest rates, double digit inflation, double digit unemployment, doubling of energy prices, the country humiliated by third world mooslims, i bet you voted for obola 3-4 times

  45. sure there are….like reverend jessie jackass…..reverend al the racist shartpon,…reverend jeremiah wright……

  46. there would be NO point speaking “coherently” to you about the UBER failure closet mooslim obola was, you are a TRUE believer…yes we can…..

  47. well you speak from experience about drinking the “poisoned kool-aid,and racism” since you obviously supported the racist president obola

  48. you are TRULY clueless, you must of been born in 1996 if you truly think carter had a clue what he was doing-btw reagan was so “bad” he only won 49 states in 1984 (49 out of 50 to most of us but 49 out of 57 according to obola)

  49. Well said, though I blanch at seeing this similarity to the currant incumbent. But you ARE right, sadly.

  50. More of a case of being there at the wrong IMHO. Anyone would think he was personally directing those helicopters. So glad he returned the Panama Canal.

  51. This was a reasoned debate debate until you enlightened us. So sad.

  52. Fair comment but ‘OK’ rather mediocre IMHO

  53. Lovely comment, thanks. Was that LBJ’S daughter?

  54. As everyone else everywhere in the ‘free world’ 😉

  55. Keep calm, he made a fair comment that methinks Mr C would agree with,

  56. but is the lord of childrens cancer and a rather large pedophile ring known as the catlick church.
    Fixed!

  57. Well, you obviously have a strong opinion on who were the best and worse of the lot. I can’t comment on all of them, but I do know from personal experience my family suffered under Carter with interest rates at 16% on home mortgages and inflation at an all time high. I also know things got a lot better for us under Reagan. Personally, the safest I ever felt was when Reagan was President. He helped bring down the wall and the economy boomed. There were a lot of problems with both Bushes, and Clinton’s first 4 years were rough for the country, but he did do some good in his second term. As for Obama, I was happy to welcome the first black president, but his spending was horrible, and his failed policies even worse. He gets my vote for the worse president during my lifetime.

  58. It is certainly true stagflation was a problem during the Ford/Carter years. As a member of the military I did not feel safe under Reagan as he presided over the massacre of 256 Marines in Beirut and then invaded Grenada to distract people from Beirut. Obama’s failure was to not spend enough to stimulate the economy. His, Clinton’s and and Carter’s failure was to be too conservative and too accommodating to the forces of reaction. But Obama put Sotomayor and Kagan on the Supreme Court and it is only because of such nominations that our freedoms still exist.

  59. Um, you might want to consider context here. I referred to the late fellow’s religious and political leanings in the post above, which are the polar opposite of mine. He was not a horrible teacher; his grading was fair and he stimulated discussion. He was a pompous ass at times, as in the quote about Harding. I don’t recall his opinion on Wilson. As a native Iowan, I doubt he was impressed with Wilson’s League of Nations though. He obviously did not care for Democratic Presidents. Mr. Clinton is only six years older than me and his first race for office was some ten years after the event. BTW, Clinton is not a convicted racist, no matter what fake news source you got that from. The quote I mentioned was done so as a form of irony, even though it is 100% true, a form of humor fake news consumers do not often get.

  60. I understand what you are saying about being in the military and not feeling safe under Reagan, but as a civilian and seeing the break up of the Soviet Union, from my view point I did feel safer. I felt very unsafe when Obama took funds away from the military and started pulling out of Iraq. Also, you do remember the line in the sand. The political correctness was over-whelming and the lack of respect for police weakened the fabric of society, which I think he contributed to. Also every time some criminal or nut used a gun to wreak havoc, he wanted to take away the guns of law-abiding citizens. Only time will decide his legacy, just like it did for all our past presidents, and maybe we’ll see things a little clearer.

  61. The breakup of the Soviet union happened under George H.W. Bush, not Reagan, and neither of them had anything to do with it. Obama was right to pull out of Iraq; we never should have invaded it in the first place. No one’s private guns were wanted to be taken away ever except criminals. Police regularly murder minority Americans, and Obama was right to respond to this genocide as he did. The bulk of the world misses Ole Bamz terribly.

  62. That articulates better than I could what I have always thought about his presidency. It wasn’t so much incompetence as his working against the grain of those with the most power.

  63. In Jesus’ genealogy there were 4 women of “disrepute”, Tamar of a mess, Rahab who was saved, Ruth who was redeemed and the woman who married to the king.

    I am thankful that Jesus is my God, my Savior, my Redeemer and my LORD unlike so many of these iron judges with their words in fiery arrows on this article and its descendant prosecutions.

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