What role does faith play in politics? How do Christians reach the poor? How is our faith critical to the fight for human rights around the world?
During this fascinating conversation, Chuck Colson, John Stonestreet and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter discuss all of these questions and more, evaluating them as part of Carter’s message expressed in his new one-year devotional, Through the Year.
Chuck describes how he enjoyed the book not only because of its content, but because it comes from a man who has lived the call to proclaim Christ throughout the seasons of his life.
"…you've faithfully done that, regardless of your status in life or your position or power or influence,” says Chuck. “You just come back and teach Sunday school. You taught one of your lessons at First Baptist as president on conversion, and you used my story as an example. I was very humbled by that. But to this day, you continue to do it through your local church, which is the example all of us should be setting as Christians. I commend you for that."
"I’ve been teaching Bible lessons since I was eighteen years old," says Carter. "I was a midshipman in the Naval Academy, and would do it every Sunday in the Navy chapel. When I was president, I taught Sunday school without prior notice to anyone in the First Baptist Church… And now I’ve taught in my own, local church about 650 times since I left the White House… It’s a wonderful experience for us and a good chance to bring people into church that otherwise have never been to a worship service of any kind."
Recounting their work together for Habitat for Humanity in Chicago, Colson and Carter explore the concept of proclaiming Christ in all seasons not only through His teaching, but through following His example of service.
"[Habitat for Humanity] is one way for Christian people to break the barrier between us who are wealthy and have everything in life and the poorest people who have never had a decent way of life,” says the former president. "That's one of our biggest challenges as Christians: how to break down the barrier between us and those who are really in need of a Christian ministry."
"You lived out your faith as president while you were in office,” points out Chuck, “and one of the things I admire most was your stand on human rights."
Carter, who during his administration pressured leaders of Communist Poland and China to expand religious freedom and end human rights abuses, sees such action as paramount for a Christian in political power. Our 39th president continues to push for humanitarian causes across the globe today, working especially hard in the face of oppression, poverty and natural disaster, factors which deny basic needs to many.
"Well if you ask the average American about human rights, they would immediately say freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of voting and trial by jury, freedom of worship.” says Carter. "Those obviously are very important. But if you ask the average person in Sri Lanka or Burkina Faso, the average person in Ghana or Liberia, they would add to that the right to have a home in which to live, the right to have food to eat, the right to have a job, the right to have education, the right to have healthcare. These social and economic rights are important in addition to the rights we think of in America. And that's, in my opinion, what Jesus Christ did. He emphasized the healing of people who were ill and the alleviation of suffering. So I think the whole gamut of human rights are important for us to remember."
For Chuck, who has spent nearly four decades working in our prison systems and with the families of inmates, these realities strike a chord. But he also points out the need to protect the most fundamental of rights recognized in the West, and enshrined in our Constitution.
"Some people, I'm one of them," he says, "believe that all human rights flow from the primary right of individuals created in the image of God to be free to exercise their conscience freely—and so 'freedom of religion,' which I use as a term because the Constitution uses it. 'Freedom of worship' is being commonly used today in American foreign policy. I disagree with that. But 'freedom of religion,' it seems to me, is fundamental because all of the others are going to flow from that."
"I certainly do agree with that," says Carter. "We have countries that have mandatory application of their religion to the exclusion of others, like in Saudi Arabia, where if anyone tries to advocate Christianity, it's violating their basic laws, and where women are deprived of basic rights to vote or participate in politics or even to drive an automobile."
Despite the work he has done throughout his life to reverse such religious oppression, Carter’s hope for reform lies ultimately in the spread of the Gospel. In fact, that’s why he does what he does.
"In general in the world," Carter says, "Christianity is growing quite rapidly because of the demonstration of Christ's teachings by those who have gone there as missionaries and so forth."
"Mr. president,” says John Stonestreet, "I'm glad to hear you say that, since it's something we definitely believe here at BreakPoint, that Christianity works primarily because it's true, and when you apply Jesus' teachings to the world, it actually works."
"I see an impending conflict" says Stonestreet, "on this issue of this basic right of freedom of religion. And that is with the language that's currently being used to equate certain 'rights' of sexual behavior with being human rights and behavior that would certainly be frowned upon around the world in both Christian and Islamic societies. The idea of LGBT rights for example...there seems to be an inevitable conflict between these 'rights' and the rights of religious freedom."
President Carter, while agreeing with John about the impending conflict between homosexual "rights" and religious freedom, confesses a laissez-faire attitude, describing how he hopes to see local jurisdictions, not the Federal Government, deal primarily with the issue. For him, the most pressing social issue has always been abortion.
"I didn't have any problem with that when I was president, but I did have a problem with the abortion issue," he says, "because I am very conservative on the abortion issue, but I had to comply with the Roe vs. Wade ruling of the Supreme Court. So I did everything I could to minimize the need for abortion, even though I regretted the liberality of the Supreme Court ruling. But that was the only conflict that I found with my religious faith and my political obligations while I was in the White House. I thought Roe vs. Wade violated the basic principles that I thought Jesus Christ would espouse."
"What do you hope to accomplish with this book?" asks Chuck, closing out the conversation. "If people take this on a daily basis and read the meditations, many of which are excellent, is it going to strengthen them in the full orb of the Christian faith?"
"Well," says Carter, “I hope it will let people see that no matter what kind of circumstances affect an individual life, there's an answer to those questions within the Holy Scriptures, judged by the life of Jesus Christ. I hope that this book with all of the multiple lessons that are in it...will help people to see that no matter what kind of life we now lead, we can always lead a more full and gratifying and unpredictable life if we apply the teachings of Jesus Christ."
Click here to purchase President Carter's new devotional, Through the Year.
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