Missed this news item while we were away on vacation and only just now stumbled onto it…
Jimmy Carter, who resigned from the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000, earlier this month cut all final ties with the denomination citing the denomination’s discrimination against women. For the full story see The Guardian.
Back in 2000 according to The Baptist Standard, when former President Carter first stepped down from the SBC, he called “recent changes in the Baptist Faith & Message doctrinal statement ‘profound and revolutionary’ and said they ‘reflect an increasingly rigid SBC creed.'” Carter added, “‘This is a torturous decision to make […] I do it with anguish and not with any pleasure.'”
At that time Carter “said he and his wife, Rosalynn, want to associate with ‘other traditional Baptists who continue to share such beliefs as separation of church and state, servanthood and not domination of pastors, local church autonomy, a free religious press and equality of women.'”
According to the Standard article, Carter said, “one particular change in the 2000 doctrinal statement ‘overrides and explains the other concerns I have’–the SBC’s decision to eliminate language that identifies Jesus Christ as ‘the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted.'” Carter felt the SBC had put the Bible on the same plane as Jesus Christ, essentially making an idol of scriptures.
Fast forward to two weeks ago, when Jimmy Carter cut his last ties with the SBC, stepping down from his local church where he had remained a member. He was quoted in The Guardian as saying, “my decision… was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service. This was in conflict with my belief – confirmed in the holy scriptures – that we are all equal in the eyes of God.” He added, “It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population.”
Carter also took a swipe at other religions who repress women, particularly Islam: “In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.” He added, “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”
Returning to the subject of the Baptist Church, and Christianity in general, Carter said, “I understand that the carefully selected verses found in the holy scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place […] than eternal truths. Similar Biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.
“[…] During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted holy scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.
“I know, too, that Billy Graham […] did not understand why women were prevented from being priests and preachers. He said: ‘Women preach all over the world. It doesn’t bother me from my study of the scriptures.’
“The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.”
These days Carter is involved with the New Baptist Covenant, which emphasizes “traditional Baptist values” while working to “promote peace with justice, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and marginalized, welcome the strangers among us, and promote religious liberty and respect for religious diversity.”
In skimming what other bloggers have to say about the announcement, the conservatives are being predictably vitriolic and the liberals are saying it’s a step in the right direction, namely, away from religion. Both sides are missing the point. The conservatives need to understand that sometimes a liberal can get it right, and this is one of those times. Repentance, not sarcasm, is called for. And the liberals need to understand that Carter’s support of equality and justice is irrevocably rooted in, not contrary to, his faith.
It’s good to hear Carter’s words… the words of a man who backs up his beliefs with compassionate action.