You can’t always tell a politician by what the opposition is saying about him. Case in point: Jimmy Carter.
A couple of years ago, we were on a vacation to rural Georgia to visit family and hike the so-called Georgia’s little grand canyon, at Providence, Ga.
Somehow we got the idea to get up early Sunday and go hear President Jimmy Carter teach Sunday school. Why not, it’s not like you get to meet a former president every day?
So we loaded up and made the early-morning drive to Maranatha Baptist Church, where Carter teaches, which he does on an every-other-week type schedule.
Maranatha is a small, very small church, akin to Ragsdale Church of Christ. There’s parking under a bunch of oak trees in what is essentially the field behind the church. A crowded field, at least on the Sunday mornings that Carter teaches and attendance swells from about 30 to about 300.
If you are a member or guest of a member, you have a reserved spot, if you’re there to see Carter, you get to first go through a Secret Service checkpoint then if you are early enough get a spot in the sanctuary.
A remainder of the visitors can watch from an adjoining room via live TV monitors. To be fair, Carter speaks to the remote room in person before he moves to the sanctuary.
He is also generous enough to stay after for photos with his visitors. Only after the sermon, in a well-managed process that is well rehearsed by some strict church leaders.
We brought our son, Sean, who was still in diapers at the time, so we thought it best to stay out in the remote location we wouldn’t disturb the service. At some point, we were invited to bring Sean to the nursery if we wanted.
Now Georgia Baptists are I’m sure good people, but we opted to join Sean in the nursery. At some point, we were further invited, to move to a small Sunday school room with the feed to the sermon following Carter’s lesson.
Both as I recall were good, but what I recall most, was the hard hats that were sitting on a cabinet in the corner of the room.
These it seems were Carter’s from his ongoing work with Habitat for Humanity. Up until recently, Carter, 95, still volunteers to help build houses with the charity.
At ninety-five he teaches Sunday school, volunteers for charity and won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. Not too shabby for a Democrat that lost the Religious Right to a Hollywood actor that as governor of California signed one of the most liberal abortion bills into law. So while Reagan was to become a huge ally of the religious right and a standard for conservatism, Carter was hardly the heathen that some implied him to be.
So while political views are deeply personal, they are often much more complex than the simple black-or-white framework projected during elections. People are rarely the saint or devil they are said to be and unsurprisingly, their stance on issues rarely aligns completely with their voters.