LYNCHBURG, Va. (BP) — Former United States President Jimmy Carter challenged Liberty University graduates to “work as much as [they] can to unify Christians in the world,” and noted Baptists should “come together as friends and not be alienated one from another.”
Liberty hosted Carter as the keynote speaker for their 45th commencement ceremony on Saturday (May 19). Carter, the nation’s 39th president, spoke to the crowd at Williams Stadium — made up of around 8,000 graduating students — about the God-given freedom and opportunity that they will now have.
“As new graduates, you’re blessed now with the maximum freedom that you will ever know, and every one of us decides, ‘this is the kind of person I choose to be,'” Carter said.
President Carter became the third president to deliver the commencement address at Liberty, joining George H. W. Bush in 1990 and Donald Trump in 2017 who both gave their address during their presidential term.
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. said he first met Carter and his wife Rosalynn last year at a private morning worship service on the day of President Trump’s inauguration.
Falwell noted he was impressed with the kindness, humility and warmth in which Carter carried himself. Lynchburg’s The News & Advance interviewed Falwell, who shared about his admiration for Carter.
“I have tremendous respect for him as a statesman and a true Christian,” Falwell said. “President Carter, both during his time in office and since, has followed the teachings of Christ by serving the poor and loving his neighbors. I am thrilled that he will be sharing the story of his life of faith in action to our graduates and their families.”
Falwell spoke of the courage with which Carter conducted his time in office and encouraged other men and women to aspire to political office with the same attitude of courage.
Carter has often been called “the world’s most famous Sunday school teacher.” The 93-year-old continues to teach an adult Bible study at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga. He has also been involved with many humanitarian efforts during and after his presidency such as his work with Habitat for Humanity and his leadership over The Carter Center in Atlanta.
In recognition of his lifetime of service, Liberty presented Carter with an honorary doctorate of humanities degree before his address to the crowd.
Unity among those in the faith community was one of the main themes of Carter’s message to the graduates.
Carter briefly mentioned a meeting he held in 1981 at The Carter Center with 40 of the nation’s top Southern Baptist leaders, seven of which would go on to become the president of the SBC, to discuss and try to resolve some disagreements between them.
Despite any differences with Southern Baptists on various social and theological issues and announcing his withdrawal from the SBC on multiple occasions, Carter emphasized the importance of unity in the body of Christ.
“Our common faith and worship of Jesus Christ is slowly bringing us back together,” Carter said. “We should work as much as we can to unify Christians in the world, and particularly Baptists ought to come together as friends and not be alienated one from another.”
Carter closed his speech by telling the graduates to lean into both prayer and following Christ’s example as foundations to build upon for the Christian life.
“Through prayer, we can have constant contact day or night with our Creator who knows everything and can do anything, and we have a perfect example to follow if we’re in doubt, we just have to remember the perfect life of Jesus Christ,” Carter said.
Liberty University is in partnership with the Southern Baptist Conservatives (SBC) of Virginia.