RALEIGH, N.C. -- Former President Jimmy Carter said no television evangelist could shake his faith and said Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell could 'go to hell' for questioning his Christianity.
At a wide-ranging news conference Thursday at Meredith College, Carter said Falwell had questioned whether a Christian could have initiated the Salt II and Panama Canal treaties -- hallmarks of the Carter presidency.
'There is nothing any television evangelist can do to shake my faith,' Carter said. 'Jerry Falwell can -- in a very Christian way -- as far as I'm concerned, he can go to hell.'
Falwell issued a statement from his Lynchburg, Va., headquarters saying: 'I have too much respect for President Carter as our former head of state and brother in Christ to believe he would tell anyone to go to hell.'
Spokesman Mark DeMoss said he could not recall Falwell making the statement referred to by Carter.
Carter, a devout Baptist, also said there was 'a growing danger of fundamentalist extremist groups' taking control of the Southern Baptist Convention.
'The fundamentalists are driven by fervor and total commitment,' Carter said. 'I think that's why they've been so successful.'
But Carter noted Baptist churches are autonomous and can reject the convention's resolutions.
The former president also criticized the Reagan administration for a lack of initiative in the Middle East peace process and for supporting Nicaraguan contra rebels.
'For the 5 years since I left the White House there has been no priority given to peace in the Middle East as a process,' Carter said. 'There is no doubt in my mind that is why we have seen terrorism erupt - in all it's terrible forms -- throughout that region.'
Carter also said the United States is 'destined to lose the contra war in Nicaragua' and predicted escalated fighting and bloodshed.