Mr. Carter doesn’t quote a whole bunch of Scripture when he makes a speech. But as you listen to his speeches, you get the feeling that Scripture has shaped and molded his thinking.
The prevailing application of the establishment clause has led many to believe that their “free exercise thereof” has been violated. In other words, some from the Christian community are perturbed because they are not able to express their faith in certain public settings.
The recurring complaints are well known. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled against teacher-led prayer and Bible reading in public schools. The Court is developing a significant case history prohibiting the display of religious symbols such as Nativity scenes and Ten Commandment monuments on municipal property. Even the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance are presently being reviewed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The anger and frustration regarding these issues run deep. Some Christians say their faith is being assaulted. They feel they are being unfairly discriminated against simply because they are Christian. These believers claim they have a right to express their faith in public venues, and many of them do in defiance of the law.
Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, a religious group that lobbies for a strict separation of church state, remarked recently that if the First Amendment were put up for re-ratification today he is not sure it would receive the required two-thirds majority.
Meanwhile, over in Atlanta, a Baptist layman by the name of Jimmy Carter has been honored with the Nobel Peace Prize. Obviously, he is not your run-of-the-mill Baptist layman. He was once governor of Georgia and later president of the United States. But it is not his work as a politician that earned Mr. Carter the attention of the Nobel Prize committee.
While serving as president, Carter brokered a peace deal between Israel and Egypt. His effort to bring the two countries together was a visible expression of his personal commitment to peace. His commitment to peace is a direct result of deeply held religious beliefs.
Since leaving the presidency, these beliefs have sent Mr. Carter around the world promoting democracy, nonviolence and human rights. Jimmy Carter’s commitment to justice is a convincing and visible expression of his religious faith.
Admittedly, Mr. Carter doesn’t quote a whole bunch of Scripture when he makes a speech. But as you listen to his speeches, you get the feeling that Scripture has shaped and molded his thinking.
It is also true that the former president does not sprinkle the name “Jesus” into his every conversation. But as we watch him live and serve, as we observe his compassion and commitment, it’s not hard to figure out whose example Mr. Carter is trying to follow.
All of which is to say there are visible expressions of faith that are decorative and self-serving. They make for good grandstanding, but don’t do much that makes a real difference in the lives of real people.
On the other hand, there are visible expressions of faith that are subtle, yet powerful. These displays of faith often directly affect people’s lives in a myriad of positive ways. To paraphrase the New Testament, against this kind of religious expression there is no law.
James Evans is pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala.
“Two Baptists Make Global Headlines, Suggest Different Paths” by Robert Parham