Jimmy Carter on Sexism in the Church

Recently, Jimmy Carter released an Op Ed piece, which I first discovered here. And while the content of the piece is nothing revolutionary for those who have had at least some exposure to Christian feminism and modern biblical scholarship, there’s no doubt that the man doing the talking has the potential to influence a much larger section of culture than academics can.

His opening premise is simple: “Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.”

And he goes on to explain how and why:

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met…

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy – and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it…

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasize the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.

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. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

I, for one, agree.

What do you think about the former President’s words? Or about the issue in general?

Advertisements

16 thoughts on “Jimmy Carter on Sexism in the Church

  1. Speaking as someone who has been through the indignity of being a non-married, non-girly, essentially non-conforming female in a church that takes male headship seriously, I say yay! I do think that those who disagree with Carter’s position have an easier time supporting it from the Bible, though. I have been too busy and/or too sick to look very hard as yet, but I’ve never seen an explanation for 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 or 1 Timothy 2:11-15 which allows women to be anything other than subservient which did not also have the strong air of semantic gymnastics designed to avoid what is clearly being said.

      1. Ben,

        I agree with the views of Mohler and Colson when it comes to this issue. As it happens, Pastor Mark Driscoll also agrees. I believe in complementarianism. We are created equal, but we are not created to do things equally. Men and women are different!
        The implications for female preachers – I don’t believe this implies that women shouldn’t preach or teach. I believe they can and if the Lord has called them to, should. What I would say is that ,for the most part, women should not be in positions of head leadership. I say “for the most part” because I believe there can be exceptions.
        As for who is and is not an exception? That’s not for me say. I will say that I believe there are only exceptions rarely and out of necessity. “Women taking a man’s role is an abnormality, not a freedom. Women were never anointed to be kings, priests, warrior judges, apostles, or elders. On rare occasions they were prophetesses.” Quote from article listed below.
        There are always those that point to Deborah as an argument in favor of egalitarianism. I would point those to an article written by Barbara Mouser.

        http://www.cbmw.org/Journal/Vol-11-No-2/The-Womanliness-of-Deborah

        Thoughts?

        1. I mostly agree with President Carter where I bolded the text.

          But with respect to the issue more generally,

          I don’t think Scripture speaks univocally on this. On the one hand, there are the texts that speak explicitly on the roles of the two genders. Males are generally spoken of in terms of headship, and women are spoken of in terms of helpers. Ephesians six, the passages birdisflown cited, and of course the most explicit of them all, the Timothy passage in which women are seemingly forbidden to speak authoritatively to a man.

          On the other hand, I am persuaded that there is a contrasting motif that appears throughout Scripture. You hinted at one, Deborah. Another prominent figure is Miriam, who leads Israel in worship (Exodus 15). The important point I would raise here is this: worship has several functions in the life of the faith community.

          Worship is doxological, i.e., it is an expression of gratitude that brings glory to God. Worship is missiological, i.e., it calls the church to participate in the reconciliation of the world. Worship is also didactic, i.e., worship is actually a part of the church’s proclamation — and women do that all the time and have done so throughout history (plus, they teach boys … and boys are in their most formative years before they are adults).

          Finally, I think there is sufficient evidence that in the earliest churches, women did have roles of authority; it seems that it wasn’t until the 2nd and 3rd generations of the church (perhaps when the Timothy passage above was written down) that there was significant resistant to that. SBL recently had an article on that issue.

          As an arm-chair sociologist, I would also have some comments on the issue from that perspective. I’m fairly convinced that gender roles are mostly nurture, not nature. There are certain biological differences, yes, but I think the vast majority of the differences are taught and learned, not ingrained by nature. When we look at the history of God’s people, from the ancient Hebrews in Scripture up to the contemporary church, there’s always a temptation to baptize culture. In other words, it’s our tendency to look at what’s familiar and feels right and sacralize it, to make it holy. I think we would do well to examine the gender barriers along those lines. Is it possible that men have used religion to retain their power? We may differ on our answers, but we have to ask the question.

          Finally, I think we need to think about the issue in light of what we now know about biology, which is a different perspective on the nature/nurture debate. In short, what is it about a penis that qualifies you to preach and makes you the head? And what is it about a vagina that disqualifies you from preaching and makes you subservient?

  2. When I was a little girl I spent summers on my Grammie’s farm. I would stand on a milking stool and “preach” to the cows while she was tending to them. She shared the love of God with me and encouraged my attempts at playing preacher to the cows by her words and deeds. That’s all I wanted to be.

    Imagine my sadness when I went skipping into my pastor’s office to announce my “calling” only to be told that it wasn’t Biblical. I was placated and my hand was patted. And told wasn’t that a sweet idea. But none the less, I wasn’t worthy.

    I’ve grown up since then. And since I can’t seem to argue against certain scripture. And because I don’t think you can pick and choose what is relevant from scripture I feel screwed. (Can you write that here on your blog?) Imagine feeling such love and security in your family from your father. Only to discover that you aren’t quite as good as your sibling brothers. Not quite as worthy. Oh, we’ll let you do some things, but when it comes to the “real” work, the men folk will handle it.

    Well you know what? I want nothing to do with a God who has decided that I’m only worthy to work in the kitchen of His house. And as far as I can tell it’s based only on the shape of my skin.

    I found this website from reading your comments on Unreasonable Faith. Thanks for letting me vent.

    1. (Can you write that here on your blog?)

      Sure 🙂

      I’ve grown up since then. And since I can’t seem to argue against certain scripture. And because I don’t think you can pick and choose what is relevant from scripture I feel screwed. (Can you write that here on your blog?) Imagine feeling such love and security in your family from your father. Only to discover that you aren’t quite as good as your sibling brothers. Not quite as worthy. Oh, we’ll let you do some things, but when it comes to the “real” work, the men folk will handle it.

      Out of curiosity, have you ever shared this with Christian friends and/or family? If so, how did they respond (if you don’t mind sharing that…)?

      1. Yes, I’ve shared some of my frustration with friends and family. For the most part what I’ve heard in response has been silence. No one seems to know what to say to me. They tend to believe that the Bible is very clear about the issue of women in positions of authority. (I’m thinking it’s more about the issue of women in positions of POWER – but that’s another topic)

        One friend even suggested that I should just stop talking about it. As it seemed to them that I was simply bringing it up to various people in hopes that I would finally find someone who would agree. Sort of keep talking until I get the answer I want.

        I’ve tried to give all of this serious thought. And because of the anonymity of cyberspace I’ll confess another thought. Because of my anger I’ve turned my back on this sexist god. But sometimes I wonder, is this really worth the loss of my eternal soul? I can’t seem to reconcile that either.

        Ok, enough for now. Again, I appreciate the space to vent.

        1. I’ve tried to give all of this serious thought. And because of the anonymity of cyberspace I’ll confess another thought. Because of my anger I’ve turned my back on this sexist god. But sometimes I wonder, is this really worth the loss of my eternal soul? I can’t seem to reconcile that either.

          Last time I checked, you didn’t have to assent to everything in the Bible to be a Christian 🙂

          I like to point out this passage from Luke 18,

          To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

          “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

          “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

          Additionally, as I said above, I think there’s more than one voice in Scripture about this issue … maybe I ought to make a post out of that …

  3. “Last time I checked, you didn’t have to assent to everything in the Bible to be a Christian”

    Yikes. I think when I read that a little bell went off in my head. Maybe this is true…. Maybe it isn’t all black and white. Maybe it isn’t either or. Sounds sort of silly but I never thought about it that way. Am going to give this some thought. Thanks for clearing the way through the fog a bit.

    1. Annah,

      It’s something I’ve thought a lot about, but haven’t thought through completely, yet. When I read Paul and Jesus on salvation, I read about trusting Jesus — and the way I see it, trusting in Jesus doesn’t preclude doubt, about Scripture or otherwise.

      Take Romans 10, for example, a passage that’s basically the poster child of American Evangelicalism:

      “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

      Or these words from Jesus (Matthew 7 & 28):

      So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

      “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

      Trust, love, and follow Jesus. That’s the heart of Christianity, not wives submitting to their husbands. Or at least that’s how I see it.

      1. Thanks. You’ve given me a lot to think about. And maybe a new way to think about things. I’ll continue to hang around reading your thoughts here. Hope that’s ok.

        Also, need to give you a little grief every once in a while. My being a Celtic fan and all…..

        Annah

        1. Also, need to give you a little grief every once in a while. My being a Celtic fan and all…..

          I can handle skeptics, agnostics, and atheists, but I draw the line at Green and White (Celtics and MSU Spartans).

          😉

  4. I think this is a very difficult conversation that comes with a lot of territory, so I just want to restrict my comments to something Carter said…

    What I fundamentally disagree with Carter about is his comment, “The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women.”

    People may interpret the Bible in wildly inconsistent ways. But this isn’t an issue about “options.” Option A of mistreating women isn’t somehow as Biblically correct as Option B which upholds their worth and value. We may not always understand the Bible correctly, but I don’t think God ever intended us to have “leeway” in how we interpreted it.

    If we really are misunderstanding the Gospel, then we need to fix our misunderstanding, not justify it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s