Winter 2009: Of Note
Carter’s Quest for Peace, Health Continues
After more than two decades, the Carter Center closes in on Guinea worm disease
By Paige P. Parvin 96G
It’s 9:34 a.m. on a chill November morning, and the last few students are hurrying into room 411 in the new Candler School of Theology building, looking a little anxious because they were specifically instructed by Assistant Professor Tom Flores to be on time. There is a surprise guest speaking today to this class, Sacred Ambivalence: Violence, Peacebuilding, and Interfaith Dialogue in Theory and Practice.
As the students slide into their seats, their faces light up to see former U.S. President Jimmy Carter standing behind the podium at the front of the room.
“I’d like to start by reminding all of us that for Christians, the basic premise is that we worship the prince of what?” asks Carter, clearly drawing on his years of Sunday-school teaching at his Baptist church in Plains, Georgia.
“Peace,” the students chorus, easily slipping into their role.
Carter, a University Distinguished Professor who teaches at least one class at Emory each year, went on to present a faith-based case for peace. St. Paul, he said, emphasized that divisions in the church are a major threat to the Christian faith, and differences ought to fade into relative insignificance before the goal of unity. Debates over the place of women, gays, abortion, the death penalty—these divisive arguments, said Carter, are antithetical to Christian principles.
As president, Carter said, he led from a position of Christian faith, without imposing that faith on policy decisions. He described how he would go into the Oval Office very early each morning, spin the large globe, and find what was then the Soviet Union. He would close his eyes and focus on how to prevent the Cold War from escalating. “I prayed more than I ever did before or since,” he said.
The 2002 Nobel Prize winner and prolific author also is known for the work of The Carter Center, which, in partnership with Emory, works to further democracy and public health around the world. One of the center’s primary campaigns has been the reduction of Guinea worm disease, a primitive illness caused by a worm that infests water sources in remote areas of Africa and Asia. When the center’s work began in 1986, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases in twenty nations. But in December, Carter announced that Guinea worm has been reduced by 99.7 percent, with fewer than five thousand cases remaining worldwide.
Carter was choked with emotion when he made the announcement to the center’s Board of Councilors, describing the first time he and his wife, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, encountered the disease in Ghana. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Kingdom Department for International Development have made new commitments totaling $55 million to further the campaign for complete eradication.
“The reduction of Guinea worm disease by more than 99 percent proves that when people work together, great positive change is possible,” Carter said.