When I was an idealistic young man Jimmy Carter was one of my heroes. I was a mere pup of twenty-two when I first became aware of the peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia. He was so different, so refreshing, and seemingly so real. I felt like he was “one of us” and his resume was intriguing. He was an Annapolis grad and submarine skipper, a self-made man, and he was not a Washington insider. But as a young believer I was most enthralled by his unabashedly candid comments about his faith in Jesus. I learned a hard lesson about faith and politics. Jimmy Carter’s presidency would kindly be described as mediocre.
But the post-White House years restored my respect for Mr.Carter. His tireless work for Habitat for Humanity set a standard for how ex-Presidents could use the platform of their recognition to make a difference. But somewhere along the way Jimmy Carter lost his focus.
I believe that we (Christians in America) fight a continuing battle to balance our dual citizenships. Scripture makes it very clear that we are both citizens of this world and also citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom. Any time we lose the balance between the two we risk making mistakes. I believe that Mr.Carter lost that balance yesterday. In fact, I think he fell face first on the altar of politics. You may have watched some of the memorial service of Coretta Scott King. Much of the service was uplifting but, sadly, some of it was puzzling and even infuriating. To use the memorial service of this fine woman and godly servant as a platform for politics was disheartening. I am particularly calling Mr.Carter to task because he has boldly proclaimed himself as an Evangelical Christian. With an audience around the world and the platform of the presidency Jimmy Carter chose to avoid the elements of Mrs.King’s life that really mattered. Her trust in the Lord that allowed her to continue the fight after shattering tragedy. Her grace that permeated her life in the face of fear and despair. Yesterday should have been a tribute to a life that culminated in the treasured words of her Savior…”Well done, good and faithful servant.” Jimmy Carter would have been better served to speak of the hope that Coretta King clung to and was now rewarded with in death. Millions of people are desperate for that message and not the political body punch that Mr.Carter threw when he made these remarks.
“It was difficult for them personally with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated, and they became the targets of secret government wiretapping and other surveillance.”
Of course that was difficult. But what sustained Mrs.King? That was the message for yesterday. Mr Carter also referred to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as evidence that the struggle for civil rights was not complete. “We only have to recall the color of the faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi who are most devastated by Katrina to know that there are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans,” he said. No matter how you evaluate the truth of that comment the legacy of Coretta King was to celebrate the progress she helped engineer with her husband and in the years following his death. That was the message for yesterday. Mr.Carter can say whatever he wants whenver he wants to say it. But I would suggest there is a time for criticism and a time for politics. The memorial service of a great American woman was not the time for either. And as a Christian he missed the chance to communicate the most powerful message we can…the resurrection power of Jesus over death.
Why am I picking on Jimmy Carter? Because I believe he knows the truth that of the words that Paul wrote to the Church at Philippi. “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” I believe that we are to be good citizens of whatever country we call our nation. But we should never forget that we have dual citizenship. And we must always prayerfully seek God’s wisdom to keep that balance. And I believe it was unseemly to attack a sitting President during such a solemn time. Mr.Carter knows better than anyone how tough that job can be. How easy it is to pick up the stones when you are on the outer ring and not in the middle.
Let me finish with the rest of Paul’s words to the church at Phiippi. I believe they are quite appropriate for the courageous life of Coretta Scott King.
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Philippians 3 NIV
Thank you Mrs. King for pressing on, forgetting what was behind, and pressing on toward the goal. I believe you are holding the prize in heaven today. Enjoy your new citizenship in heaven. I hope the rest of us will honor your life with action and not just accusations.