Emerging Perspectives: Student Chapters

President Carter’s Environmental Roots

Robert Riley

Former President Carter, the peanut farmer turned president, has a long and well-known record. He’s been everything from a farmer, navy man, state senator, then Governor of Georgia, President of the United States, Noble Peace Prize winner, and bible study teacher. What’s not as recognized as his noble peace prize winning post-presidency, or his political career, is his strong environmental policies. In his 4 years in the White House, President Carter did more for the environment than many presidents before and after him. He faced many challenges throughout his presidency, most notably the hostage crisis, and the energy crisis. These major challenges in his tenure have hogged much of the attention of his presidency, and people seem to forget his message of good environmental attitudes. The question is, where did his environmental attitudes come from?

I would argue that his attitudes and beliefs are rooted from his deep religious faith. President Carter is a well-known devout Christian, and a southern Baptist one. Whether you love or hate him, most would know that Jimmy Carter was a strong believer. How did he draw on those beliefs throughout his life, and especially when he was in the White House? He talks frequently in his books and bible study lessons of his admiration of Reinhold Niebuhr. Carter frequently quotes Niebuhr in his books and lessons, especially when mixing public office and religion. “In Reinhold Niebuhr on Politics, the theologian wrote, ‘To establish justice in a sinful world is the whole sad duty of the political order…’ Niebuhr’s obvious point is that the highest possible goal of a government or a society is to treat people fairly, to protect their safety, to guarantee their individual rights, to guard against discrimination, and to resolve disagreements peacefully. Most of us would agree that these goals are common to church and state” (Carter, 2018, pg.147). These principled of justice and service draw clear connections between his religious beliefs and political viewpoint. Carter avoided ever showing privilege to Christianity though, so it’s rare to find him using faith as reasoning for any policy. Although it’s not easy to find direct religious reasoning for environmental policy, it is possible to find the origins of his good environmental ethics by taking a closer look at his background and theological roots…


Find the rest of this chapter in Emerging Perspectives on Religion and Environmental Values in America HERE.


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