When I was about five or six, I remember standing in the Safeway with my mom, sounding out the big words on the bright orange posters hanging from the windows. "Mommy," I asked, "What's inflation mean?"
She answered, "It's when prices go up, and it's Jimmy Carter's fault."
(Mom, you should know, voted for Reagan when she became a naturalized U.S. citizen about four years later, and a framed picture of the Great Communicator hung in our den for as long as we lived in that house. She probably still has it, I haven't checked.)
Despite my upbringing, I always liked Carter, probably because we pronounced nuclear the same way (nuke-u-lar), but a few years ago I read his book, Our Endangered Values, and ended up being a huge fan of his. Between that, his work with Habitat for Humanity, the Carter Center's dedication to mediating peace and ensuring fair and democratic elections worldwide just puts him over the top for me. You go, J.C.!
And now, he's taking on his biggest challenge: Baptists.
(Carter) has spearheaded the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, an unprecedented three-day gathering of more than 10,000 Baptists that began Wednesday (Jan. 30).
"It's hard to find an example of a Baptist layperson who has done more to put feet to his faith than President Carter," said Mercer University President Bill Underwood, who started planning the Atlanta gathering with Carter two years
"I don't think there's anyone in the world who could have brought this diverse array of Baptists together ... other than President Carter because he is so respected for the work that he has done."
The former president continues to teach Sunday school about 35 or 40 times a year at his Maranatha Baptist Church, a small congregation near his home in Plains, Ga., which supports the mission programs of both the Southern Baptist Convention and the more moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
"Whenever a Sunday comes and I'm in Plains, then I teach," he said in an interview.
On Wednesday, in an emotional moment, Carter said the celebration was "the most momentous event" in his religious life and urged a renewed focus on the key aspects of Baptist faith, including salvation and unity.
"Unfortunately, the arguments and even the animosities that exist among Christians are like a cancer that is metastasizing within the body of Christ," he said.
Bruce Prescott with Oklahoma Mainstream Baptists is blogging from the Celebration of New Baptist Covenant, and you can keep up with it here.