In his 1976 campaign for President, Jimmy Carter made much of his being a “born-again” Christian. Many of his fellow Southern Baptists in the solid (but softening) south were delighted to hear what sounded like a plain confession of evangelical faith. But that was then, and this is now.
In a recent interview with Newsweek magazine, President Carter makes statements that cannot be reconciled with evangelical faith.
Newsweek: A new book . . . argues that religion should be taught in public schools. Do you agree?
Carter: I wouldn’t have any aversion to that. To teach a comparative religions course, to compare Christianity with Judaism and Islam and Hinduism and so forth, would be constructive. It would show that there is a compatibility among them all. I can’t claim to be a scholar, but when our hostages were being held by Iran when I was president, I read the Quran, and I had Islamic scholars come and talk to me. The basic human-behavior principles were the same. The Islamic Bible, the Quran, teaches peace and justice and care for one’s neighbor and helping the poor. I would not be in favor of public schools endorsing Christianity. . .
Newsweek: Do you think a Mormon is a Christian?
Carter: Yes, I do. I have a cousin who is a Mormon and she married one of the Marriott family. I don’t know anyone who’s more devout in their faith than she and her family. I admire them very much.
If Christianity were merely a matter of “basic human-behavior principles,” then I suppose that someone could find “compatibility” between it and some version of Islam or Mormonism. But biblical Christianity cannot be reduced to that sort of pabulum.
Christians are disciples of Jesus the Messiah, the very Son of God (Acts 11:26). The Christian gospel proclaims the life, death, and resurrection of Christ for sinners in fulfillment of Israel’s scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The Jesus of the scriptures brooks no rivals, nor does he allow a divided allegiance (Matthew 6:24). Allegiance to Jesus Christ is not “compatible” with any other allegiance, be it devotion to Islam or to the heresy of Mormonism. To pretend that Christianity is compatible is to completely misunderstand the Christian gospel.
All Christians need to be reminded that faithfulness to the gospel means proclaiming the supremacy of Christ over all other rivals. It also means refusing to capitulate to the relativizing tendencies of pluralism. This means that faithful Christians will not trade in the glory of Christ for the error reflected in Carter’s comments.