Non-fiction

by Jimmy Carter
Simon & Schuster, 2005

I was hoping for more from Jimmy Carter’s Our Endangered Values. I have great respect for the former President. I think he is a man of strong moral principles who did not just disappear into retirement or the lucrative lecture tour. Since his defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1981, Carter has been actively engaged in making the world a better, safer place.

There are good things to be said about the book. For one, Jimmy Carter, born and raised Southern Baptist, speaks from within the fold of what is called fundamentalism. Yet he rejects the rigid, dominant and exclusive turn that this faith position has taken. As such, his is a credible voice, much like that of Jim Wallis from Sojourners (I still intend to read his book God’s Politics).

Carter can, with integrity, remind the Christian faithful that “…those who truly follow the nature, actions and words of Jesus Christ should encompass people who are different from us with our care, our generosity, forgiveness, compassion and unselfish love.” Then in the chapters that follow he tries to explain what this means in light of social issues that continue to aggravate and divide America.

Another reason to read and own the book is that he gathers, in this one slim volume (with nice large typeset!), a number of statistics that will be helpful in the ongoing, often never ending, dialogue between those of different persuasions.

In case you don’t read the book, here are a few —

On gun control: “American children are sixteen times more likely than children in other industrialized nations to be murdered with a gun, eleven times more likely to commit suicide with a gun, and nine times more likely to die from firearms accidents.” (p. 13)

On abortion: “Canadian and European young people are about equally active sexually, but, deprived of proper sex education, American girls are five times as likely to have a baby as French girls, seven times as likely to have an abortion, and seventy times as likely to have gonorrhea as girls in the Netherlands. Also, the incidence of HIV/AIDS among American teenagers is five times that of the same age group of Germany. It is obvious that our teenagers are mature enough to be given the facts about sex, and deserve to be able to protect themselves — preferably by abstinence, but with the wise use of contraceptives if that is their deliberate choice.” (p. 75)

On the death penalty and imprisonment: “More than seven Americans out of a thousand are now imprisoned — most of them for nonviolent crimes. This is the highest incarceration rate in the world, exceeding Russia’s former record of six per thousand….In addition to imprisonment, the United States of America stands almost alone in the world in our fascination with the death penalty, and our few remaining companions are regimes with a lack of respect for basic human rights. Ninety percent of all known executions are carried out in just four countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.” (p.79 – 80)

He has important things to say about our foreign policy, the war in Iraq, preemptive war, torture and human rights. Things he can say from the unique perspective of one who has had to make similar policy decisions.

But in one of his final chapters, Carter suggests that the greatest challenge of the new millennium, and one that has an overwhelming religious mandate, is the question of poverty — addressing the growing gap between the rich and the poor.

So what detracts? Carter’s tendency to tout his accomplishments as President and at The Carter Center. This is increasingly so in the last few chapters this which begin to make him sound like someone running for office again.

And therein lies the disappointment. I was hoping to offer this book to my father-in-law and a sister-in-law or two, and maybe a brother — all of whom take different positions than I do, based on their faith perspectives. But I’m afraid that too much talk of his achievements and his presidency (which none of them liked) will take their eye and heart off his logical, faith arguments.

So — some good information. But not quite the treatise by a Christian statesman that I had hoped.