This is really a great time — in terms of mainstream media coverage — to be a liberal or “progressive” evangelical.
If you needed proof of this thesis — other than the contents of op-ed pages and wire features — then look no further than the latest political/media comeback by former President Jimmy Carter.
I have followed Carter for decades (I was a Carter volunteer at Baylor University in 1975-76), which is understandable since it’s impossible to report on the role of “born again” Christians in American political life without paying close attention to what Carter believes and when he believed it. He inspired many, many “moderate” Baptists and other evangelicals to take politics seriously.
Here’s a question I have asked for several decades now: Name another American politician — Republican or Democrat — who was willing to cost himself support within his own party by taking a critical stance, of any kind, on abortion. To this day, Carter’s language on abortion makes his party’s leadership nervous (see his remarks last year at Liberty University).
But the former president has certainly evolved on other crucial doctrinal issues. What role has this played in his current popularity with Democrats and, thus, with the press?
Consider this recent feature from the Associated Press: “Jimmy Carter finds a renaissance in 2020 Democratic scramble.” Here is the totally political overture:
ATLANTA (AP) — Jimmy Carter carved an unlikely path to the White House in 1976 and endured humbling defeat after one term. Now, six administrations later, the longest-living chief executive in American history is re-emerging from political obscurity at age 94 to win over his fellow Democrats once again.
A peanut farmer turned politician then worldwide humanitarian, Carter is taking on a special role as several Democratic candidates look to his family-run campaign after the Watergate scandal as the road map for toppling President Donald Trump in 2020.
“Jimmy Carter is a decent, well-meaning person, someone who people are talking about again given the time that we are in,” Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said in an interview. “He won because he worked so hard, and he had a message of truth and honesty. I think about him all the time.”
Klobuchar is one of at least three presidential hopefuls who’ve ventured to the tiny town of Plains, Georgia, to meet with Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, who is 91. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, also have visited with the Carters and attended the former president’s Sunday School lesson in Plains.
So what is going on here? Why is this Sunday school teacher a crucial figure in a party that is now skewing to the cultural left?
Well, first there is — #DUH — Donald Trump. Can you name someone whose public career and private life has been more anti-Trump than Jimmy Carter?
Now, contrast that with another ex-president Democrats could be visiting — Bill Clinton. Now take into account that President Barack Obama has to stay out of the endorsement game at this point. One more thing to consider: Carter’s personal style and faith also resonates with the African-American church in the South.
Thus, readers are told:
To be sure, more 2020 candidates have quietly sought counsel from Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. Several have talked with Bill Clinton, who left office in 2001. But those huddles have been more hush-hush, disclosed through aides dishing anonymously.
Sessions with Carter, on the other hand, are trumpeted on social media and discussed freely, suggesting an appeal that Obama and Clinton may not have.
Unlike Clinton, impeached after an affair with a White House intern, Carter has no #MeToo demerits; he and Rosalynn, married since the end of World War II, didn’t even like to dance with other people at state dinners. And unlike Obama, popular among Democrats but polarizing for conservatives and GOP-leaning independents, Carter is difficult to define by current political fault lines.
He’s an outspoken evangelical Christian who criticizes Trump’s serial falsehoods, yet praises Trump for attempting a relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Note the evangelical reference — which is accurate.
However, in terms of moral and social issues, Carter has evolved quite a bit. Let’s look at one more piece of the AP puzzle here:
… Carter has … warned Democrats against “too liberal a program,” lest they ensure Trump’s re-election.
Klobuchar credited Carter with being “ahead of his time” on several issues, including the environment and climate change (he put solar panels on the White House), health care (a major step toward universal coverage failed mostly because party liberals thought it didn’t go far enough) and government streamlining (an effort that angered some Democrats at the time).
So here is my question: What is the major change in Carter’s religious beliefs that has taken place since he was president? It’s a change that makes it possible for these Democrats to praise this evangelical and seek his favor without being pounded by the national press? Why is this evangelical now a hero?
Like I said: It’s a great time to be a liberal or “progressive” evangelical.