No Escape from the Present: A lesson learned from Jimmy Carter

Following the January planning meeting of the AUSCP Leadership Team in Atlanta, which I attended in a communications advisory capacity, my wife and I went to Plains, Georgia, to attend Sunday School with President Jimmy Carter. This may be an opportunity for anyone planning ahead for the June AUSCP Assembly in Atlanta. The experience became the topic for my column in the Evansville Courier and Press, which I have included below.

 The story of Noah and the Great Flood was the topic. President Jimmy Carter was guiding his Sunday School lesson January 29, at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga. My wife and I were in the sanctuary among 350 people from many states and several countries.

Posing in the sanctuary of Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains are Lee Jerstad, an Evansville, Indiana, native working for Habitat International, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter, Jane and Paul Leingang.

 President Carter focused on what came after the flood: a covenant made by God with Noah and his descendants “that never again shall all creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.”

This was the first covenant described in the Old Testament, a relationship binding the two parties together, God and God’s people. President Carter searched for synonyms for covenant – it’s like a contract, he said, or “a deal.”

And there it was, that word, at Sunday School in Georgia, a word from today, a reference to the person at the center of the struggles in the United States, the cause of international turmoil.

Like any good Sunday School teacher, Carter linked Scriptures and present day realities, noting that God promised that no flood would destroy humanity, but there were no guarantees against destruction by nuclear war or catastrophic climate change.

The early signs of global temperature changes were detected during Carter’s presidency, warming conditions for which he chose not argue the cause, just acknowledging the reality. As for the fifteen thousand nuclear weapons under his control and the knowledge that a missile would take only 26 minutes from the USSR to Washington or New York, “now you know why I prayed a lot,” he said.

Carter challenged his diverse audience to be their best. For a Christian, not just to be “Christ-like” but to be “a little Christ.” For a Buddhist, to reach Nirvana. For others, to aim for the highest and the best of their traditions.

Carter’s lesson progressed to the notions of law and freedom. He pointed out that we have the freedom to disobey God’s laws. He pointed out that human laws, agreed upon within a community, are binding. He briefly related a discussion he had had with retired Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Conner. They met after the current president had issued an executive order regarding immigrants and refugees, and after a federal judge had ordered a stay of a portion of the provisions.

In this case, Carter noted, “the law prevails,” and “it applies to Mr. Trump.”

Once again, as we pondered the Great Flood and the first covenant that followed it, there was no escaping the present.

What I am going to say next, I must be clear: these are not the words of President Carter. These are my words, the lesson I have drawn from my faith and my experience of recent weeks.

I can only conclude that we must never escape the present. Nor should we allow the current president to escape the reality of nuclear responsibility or the scientific data demonstrating the death threats in our air and water.

Nor can we tolerate the exclusion of refugees deeply vetted, husbands and wives and children separated by arbitrary and arguably illegal actions. Not as Christians can we tolerate such cruel inhumanity. Not as persons of any faith, or of no faith, persons of deep conviction that our actions must be for the good of the whole community. Not for any who believe that we are brothers and sisters all.

Not now. Not ever. Never again.