Larry Flynt's Unexpected Connection To President Jimmy Carter's Sister

Back in the 1970s, the U.S. experienced something of a low-stakes culture war. Following the social upheaval during the 1960s — the Civil Rights Era, the Vietnam War, the Summer of Love, etc. — the country's conservative Christians became concerned about the direction of the country's morals, as Western Illinois Historical Review notes. One front for this culture war came in the arena of pornography and its availability. It's not anything anyone gives much thought to today — the internet has enabled everyone, everywhere, to access limitless pixels of porn for free — but a couple of generations ago the right of Americans to produce and access smut was a matter of great concern. In those days, more than one person risked losing their freedom for producing and/or selling adult materials.

One person who knew this all too well was Hustler producer and strip club owner Larry Flynt. As the Free Speech Center explains, more than once in his life Flynt was in danger of being put behind bars for producing and selling porn. However, there was a brief period where he embraced the very thing that was trying to destroy him: Evangelical Christianity. In particular, according to the Washington Post, he befriended one of the more outspoken advocates for morality of the day — the sister of the U.S. president, no less — and, for a few months at least, considered himself a devout Christian.

Larry Flynt and Ruth Carter Stapleton

Ruth Carter Stapleton (pictured above) and Larry Flynt could not have been less alike. The former was, according to the New York Times, a devout Christian who believed in, and practiced, faith healing; who held rallies in which she exhorted the crowd to "turn to Jesus"; and published books about her faith. Larry Flynt ... well, Larry Flynt needs no introduction.

Despite the contradictory nature of their lives and careers, it seems that Flynt and Carter-Stapleton crossed paths at some point, and they began a friendship. According to a 1978 Washington Post report, Stapleton and Flynt were at an Ohio airport when the latter had a profound religious experience. "I spoke in tongues. There were animals eating at my neck, like baboons and monkeys, gnawing at me. [Jesus] told me my calling: to bring peace on earth." What Jesus did not tell him to do, however, was to stop producing porn: Flynt kept publishing Hustler, and he even described his continued business venture as "hustling for the Lord."

Flynt also redecorated his home "according to the dictates of God," as the paper described it, and threw out his junk food in favor of healthier options his new friend advocated for.

Flynt's Religion Didn't Take

Religion is generally thought of as a lifetime commitment. However, Flynt's commitment to Evangelical Christianity seems to have only lasted a few months.

Writing in Columbus Monthly, Sheldon Zoldan, who worked in Flynt's organization for a time in the 1970s, claimed that Flynt's relationship with Carter-Stapleton may have been a part of a long con. "She thinks she's converting me. But I'm really converting her," Zoldan quoted Flynt as saying. "Neither converted the other, at least not permanently," Zoldan later added.

The Washington Post also suggested that at least some people in Carter's White House thought Flynt's relationship with the president's sister wasn't necessarily above board. Some staffers reportedly believed Flynt may be socializing with Ruth Carter Stapleton for purposes of publicity.

Flynt himself admitted that his flirtation with Christianity was brief. In his book, "An Unseemly Man: My Life as a Pornographer, Pundit and Social Outcast," Flynt wrote, "I have left my religious conversion behind and settled into a comfortable state of atheism. I have come to think that religion has caused more harm than any other idea since the beginning of time. The Jerry Falwells of the world are living proof of the hypocrisy that permeates organized religion in America and around the world."