The 39th president of the United States was born on Oct. 1, 1924, so today is Jimmy Carter’s 90th birthday.
In spite of the many difficulties and widespread criticism during his presidency, he is the best ex-president the U.S. has ever had in terms of public service and contributions to world peace and justice.
It was fitting that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. And it is fitting that we, too, celebrate his birthday.
Carter was a one-term president, defeated by Ronald Reagan in 1980, who won 44 of the 50 states.
His defeat was due to many factors, such as rampant inflation that caused grave financial problems in the country, 53 Americans taken hostage in Iran and held for more than a year, and loss of support by the Religious Right.
Still, the September 1978 Camp David Accords, a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, were a tremendous accomplishment.
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin won the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize for those accords, but the agreement, officially titled “The Framework for Peace in the Middle East,” came about only because of the indefatigable efforts of Carter.
It can be argued, though, that the biggest mistake Carter made while in the White House was his support of the Shah of Iran.
On New Year’s Eve in 1977, Carter toasted the shah at a state dinner in Tehran, calling him “an island of stability” in the troubled Middle East.
Just over one year later, the shah fled his country because of the Iranian Revolution, and in February 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini returned after 14 years in exile.
Then, in November 1979, students in the Iranian Revolution overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 53 hostages who were not released until the minute after President Reagan was inaugurated in 1981.
The Iranians didn’t forget Carter’s support of the shah.
Since his presidency, Carter has authored numerous books. One of his most important, and most criticized, is “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” published in 2007.
Many strong supporters of Israel have been quite critical of that book, but Carter quite convincingly argues that the Palestinians have been mistreated greatly over the past 60 years.
It is a book that still needs to be widely read and seriously considered.
The 2007 documentary film, “Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains,” is mostly about Carter’s book tour following the publication of “Palestine” and about the controversy surrounding it.
Carter’s latest book, published earlier this year, is “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.”
He writes in the introduction that “the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls.”
Carter’s commitment to human rights and justice was a highly commendable aspect of his presidency, and he has continued that emphasis in the years since he left office more than three decades ago.
The third chapter in Carter’s new book is “The Bible and Gender Equality.” It is a strong statement about how the Bible, rightly interpreted, supports the equality of men and women.
He also explains in this chapter how that issue is one of the main reasons he left the Southern Baptist Convention.
In most ways, Carter is a rather “common” man. But he has had a remarkable life and has made great contributions to the world, both as the president of the United States and as a very active ex-president.
So regardless of your political position and your evaluation of Carter’s presidency, please join me in exclaiming, “Happy 90th birthday, Jimmy!”
Leroy Seat was a missionary to Japan from 1966-2004 and is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church. A version of this article also appeared on his blog, The View from this Seat, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @LKSeat.
Editor’s note: Carter is featured in EthicsDaily.com’s latest documentary, “Through the Door,” which focuses on the faith community’s engagement in prisons and the positive impact of these efforts.