Former President Jimmy Carter reaffirmed his commitment to the separation of church and state during a recent media interview.
In a conversation published in the November 2003 edition of Baptists Today, a publication of the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Carter reflected on his lifelong commitment to religious liberty and criticized the current leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention for aligning with conservative Republicans.
"I believe in the separation of church and state," Carter said. "I think the Southern Baptist Convention leaders have gotten deeply immersed in politics as partners with the Republican Party. And even if they were partners with the Democratic Party, I'd still object to it."
Elsewhere in the interview, Carter called religious liberty "one of the foundations of the entire Baptist concept" and added, "When a group of Christians try to implant through government our beliefs on others as superior, that subverts the basic constitutional prohibition concerning separation of church and state. And when we try to use the federal government to intercede in religious affairs, it inherently weakens the unique character of Christ's kingdom."
Carter, who regularly teaches a Sunday School class at his local Baptist congregation in Georgia, reminded readers that Jesus endorsed the principle of church-state separation. When challenged by critics to say whether paying taxes to the Romans was acceptable, Jesus pointed to a coin with an image of the Roman emperor on it and remarked, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's."
Commented Carter, "So I think that that could not have been explained more succinctly or clearly by Jesus Christ himself. When our denominational leaders or any denominational leaders, Jewish or Catholic or Protestant try to align our religious organizations with government and use the government's strength and power and influence and money to further our own faith, to me that subverts not only Christ's teachings but also the Constitution of the United States."
Carter also bemoaned the rise of religious fundamentalism around the globe in all faiths, saying it fosters dangerous tendencies.
"Increasingly, it seems to me," said Carter, "people are inclined to align themselves uniquely with God, and then to begin a process of deciding, 'Since I am aligned with God, I am superior and my beliefs should prevail. And anyone who disagrees with me is inherently wrong.' Then, the next step is inherently inferior, and the ultimate step is subhuman and then their lives are not significant."