Carter, Speaking Out Against Gender Discrimination, Gives “Elder Care” a New Meaning

I knew at an early age that, one day, I would have to leave the Southern Baptist church. As a preacher’s kid (or PK to those in the know), I had no choice but to attend a Southern Baptist church for most of my early childhood, but I knew it wouldn’t last. You see, I have always felt called to follow my father’s footsteps into the family business—but I knew from an early age that would require leaving the Southern Baptist church which states:

While Scripture teaches that a woman’s role is not identical to that of men in every respect, and that pastoral leadership is assigned to men, it also teaches that women are equal in value to men.

Equal—but not quite—in the eyes of God. I would never be ordained as a pastor within my Southern Baptist tradition. I would have to go elsewhere. The treatment of women within the Southern Baptist church has always been that of being seen as “less than” or “inferior” in some way to men. Women are admonished to “submit” to their husbands and be like my mother—a stay at home mom whose primary role in life was to raise children, cook, clean, and host church functions. Oh, and occasionally teach a Sunday School class—as long as it was a women’s class, since a woman is not permitted to teach a man.

I left the Southern Baptist church a long time ago—but some, like former president Jimmy Carter—have taken longer to get the message. It took him sixty years to renounce his membership—citing the treatment of women and girls as his reason:

So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, 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 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.

While I am grateful for President Carter’s words and his decision to leave the Southern Baptist church, my immediate reaction was, “What took you so long?” Certainly, poor treatment of women at the (decidedly masculine) hands of Southern Baptists is not a new development. The denomination has been “quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses” against women for as long as it has existed. Why did it take 60 years, Mr. President, for you to really be bothered by this and decide to distance yourself from this denomination?

I’ve always admired Carter for his willingness to change his mind—no matter how slowly. He’s speaking out on this issue now as he has become involved with “The Elders.” Carter explains the Elders this way:

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: “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.”

The Elders have other areas of concern including humanitarian efforts in Zimbabwe, working for democracy in Myanmar/Burma, and working to unify Cyprus. Perhaps on all those issues one may wonder, “What took you so long?” because injustice has been going on all around the world for some time.

The good news is, at last, a group of respected world leaders is taking an interest in the plight of women, not just those marginalized by a U.S. church denomination, but those being oppressed around the world. President Carter’s action may seem late to some—but at least he’s making the effort and working to end discrimination and injustice at home and abroad. That’s more than we can say for some former presidents.

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