Jimmy Carter Laments Close Ties Between Religion And Politics

Former President Jimmy Carter says religion and politics are getting too cozy.

Carter, a Baptist who served in the White House from 1976-80, told the Salt Lake Tribune in late October that his own former denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, helped lead the trend.

“It’s now metastasized to other religions, where an actual affiliation between the denomination and the more conservative elements of the Republican Party is almost official,” Carter told the Tribune.

The ex-president, 86, blasted pulpit-based politicking.

“There are pastors openly calling for members to vote a certain way,” he said. “That’s a serious breakdown in the principle of separation of church and state.”

Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, grew disenchanted with the rightward drift of the Southern Baptist Convention and left the denomination in 2000. He said they now worship at an independent Baptist church in Plains, Ga.,

Although he is concerned about religious groups getting too close to political ones, Carter defended the right of houses of worship to speak out on social and moral issues.

“It’s completely legitimate for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Baptists or Methodists or Catholics or anyone else to express the views of their particular faith, even when it’s an opinion about prospective legislation,” he said. “The Mormons have a perfect right to express their views against gay marriage.”

Carter gave the interview to promote a new book titled White House Diary. In the tome, he writes that he never hesitated to discuss his religious faith if asked about it, but that he also believed strongly in church-state separation.

As president, Carter discontinued the Nixon-era practice of inviting evangelists like Billy Graham into the White House to lead services. Carter wrote that he and his family worshipped at a Baptist church in Washington, where they joined congregational life. Carter even taught a few Sunday School lessons there.

“We never found it was disruptive to the congregation,” Carter said. “After the first couple Sundays, people just took it for granted in Washington.”