By Bob Allen
Former President Jimmy Carter, the world’s most famous Sunday school teacher, said Sept. 22 he supports LGBT equality because Jesus didn’t discriminate against people based on their identity.
Carter, whose Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church has long been a tourist attraction in the 39th U.S. president’s hometown of Plains, Ga., and his wife, Rosalynn, discussed human rights and their work at the Carter Center, an Atlanta nonprofit they started in 1982, at Grand Rapids Community College.
During a Q&A session following their lectures, the former president fielded a question previously submitted by a student: “How do your views on humanity and human rights translate to the LGBT community’s struggle for equality around the world and here at home in the United States, and how do your religious convictions play into your views?”
“I never knew of any word or action of Jesus Christ that discriminated against anyone because of who they were,” Carter said. “And the sexual orientation of a person is just like the color of their skin or whether they are poor or rich or whether they live in a foreign country or our country.”
Carter said he thinks discrimination against anyone that deprives them of equal rights “is a violation of basic principles of the Constitution that all of us revere in this country.”
“So no discrimination against anyone,” he said. “It is best to treat people equal in the eyes of God and everybody equal in the eyes of our Constitution and also equal in the eyes of the laws that our congressmen pass. So we ought to have that attitude toward other people.
“In the eyes of God, they are just as good as we are.”
Carter, who turns 90 Oct. 1, is on record as being supportive of same-sex marriage. “I personally think it is very fine for gay people to be married in civil ceremonies,” he said in a 2012 interview with the Huffington Post, adding he draws the line at “requiring by law that churches must marry people.”
“I’m a Baptist, and I believe that each congregation is autonomous and can govern its own affairs,” Carter said. “So if a local Baptist church wants to accept gay members on an equal basis, which my church does by the way, then that is fine. If a church decides not to, then government laws shouldn’t require them to.”
Carter, whose 1976 presidential campaign introduced the term “born-again” Christian into America’s political lexicon, for most of his adult life identified with the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics.
He renounced those ties in an October 2000 open letter to fellow Baptists, citing revisions that year to the Baptist Faith and Message that he said changed the document from a voluntary confession of faith to a coercive creed.
He elaborated in an op-ed article in 2009 that the issue for him was twisting sacred texts to discriminate against women and girls.
“My decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult,” Carter wrote as a member of former world leaders that call their group the Elders. “It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be ‘subservient’ to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.”
Carter’s church says on its website that the congregation subscribes to an earlier version of the Baptist Faith and Message adopted in 1963. Maranatha Baptist Church lists affiliations with both the Southern Baptist Convention and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a moderate breakaway group formed in 1991.