NEW YORK -- Calm, reflective, undeterred. Jimmy Carter delivered news of his damning cancer diagnosis with the assurance of a man at ease with life and ultimately death. A life-long Baptist, faith is synonymous with the Carter name. Faith and peanuts.
And though he graces that unwelcome decuplet of single term presidents, his achievements since the White House -- the near-eradication of Guinea worm disease, the establishment of the Carter Center and, more recently, his staunch defense of human and particularly women’s rights -- is a far greater legacy than many who were given four additional years in the Oval Office.
Yet the former president is also a symbol for faith in American, a beacon for what Christianity could be -- caring, tolerant and flexible. Not for him the strident dogmatism that so often sets Bronze Age teachings in conflict with the modern world.
“I am a Christian but the separation of church and state is imperative in society,” Carter told a packed Royal Festival Hall in London in 2012. More recently his faith has moved aside when in opposition to his advocacy for equality.
His 2009 open letter severing his 60-year tie with the Southern Baptist Convention over its determination to restrict women, at least in doctrine, to chattel was a moment of blinding clarity from a man who so obviously drew comfort from his beliefs.
“This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries,” he wrote, adding: “it damages us all.”
Compare that sentiment to the faith-infused inflexibility on display at the recent Republican presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio, in which Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker refused to rule out letting a mother die rather than allowing her to have an abortion, as demanded by his "faith."
If these are to be Carter’s final months, he will sadly depart with the voice of Donald Trump echoing across the Republic.
And though his cancer diagnosis is a tragedy, for a man who spent much of his life championing human rights, hearing sinister calls for an expanded police state to “round up illegals” and deport American citizens must be an even greater tragedy still.