Jimmy Carter Walks Away From the Southern Baptists

This week Former President Jimmy Carter broke ties with the Southern Baptist Church over its positions on the role of women in church leadership. President Carter noted that he could no longer in good conscience remain within the denomination. In an essay in The Age Journal , Carter wrote:

"...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."

And, later:

"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."

I applaud Carter for asking on the strength of his convictions and for the winsome way in which he acted.


  1. I'm not certain how history will view Carter, but I've a strong suspicion that, in God's eyes, Carter will be regarded as one of America's great presidents, and a great saint. He was humble enough to admit mistakes, both while in office and afterward. He was wise enough to challenge the consumerist greed of our culture, though such challenge probably cost him re-election (along with a hostage situation). No president since has had the courage to say what we all know to be true, that our economic model is unsustainable.

    And now this. His courage to name the sins of patriarchy and break ties only make me more grateful than ever that he was the first box I marked for president in my adult life.

  2. Amen.

    My upbringing (and self-education) was quite right wing both theologically and spiritually-- summers at the sectarian Christian Camp and high doses of Limbaugh.

    Somehow, I've made it to the mushy middle where I've gained a new appreciation for President Carter.

  3. I have less respect for Carter every time I hear him say something like this, which he has done with increasing frequency lately. Although his Israel statements bothre me more.

    To be clear: I don't have a problem with his stance that women can be leaders in church. But I think he's out of line when he accuses to those who think otherwise of ulterior motives. In the snippet quoted above, he uses the word "selfish." As if he knows the heart of everyone who has taken that stance.

    Fact is, many good, solid believers who have an amazing relationship with God have arrived at the male-leaders-only position after careful consideration and study. They read the bible, and this is what they believe the bible says. Nothing selfish about it.

    It sure would be nice if we could disagree with the theological perspectives of other Christians about non-salvation issues without resorting to childish name-calling and false accusations.

  4. Two more things after sleeping on this:

    1. Many of the people I know who believe that the bible teaches that the church's leaders must be male are women. (Not born and raised that way, either; one in particular was a staunch feminist just a few years ago)

    2. Carter's mentioning of the atrocities or legalized rape, female circumcision, etc. has no business being in the same sentence as a discussion about male-only church leadership. That's guilt by association. The Pharisees were masters at it. It's reprehensible.

  5. Does Carter have dementia?

  6. Alright, Ryno, if I am gonna call out Carter about bashing and resorting to childish name-calling toward his fellow believers, then I should remind you of the same....

  7. to be clear... I find Carter's willingness to speak about the issue and take a stand on the issue commendable. Your complaint about how his message is delivered is a point well taken. However, it's also, in its own right, a slippery slope. It's often the case that when people don't like the message, they shoot the messenger. I'm not saying you're doing that here, but the point of the story wasn't the delivery; it was the reality that his view on this issue has moved enough that he's now willing to pay the price of leaving his denomination.

    I'm glad he's willing to move because both fidelity to the truth, and movement when we're convicted that we're wrong are important. Take away either, and transformation towards Christ ceases.

  8. Richard what you say is true. I don't intend to minimize that at all. But in this case the messenger delivered the message in a horrific way which cannot be overlooked.

    I don't want to minimize the importance of Christian unity, and honesty.

    Unity, I think, is self-evident here. Carter didn't just say he disagreed with the Baptists, he said disparaging things about them in the process. Christians disagree with each other about lots of things, from mode of baptism to tithing to music to end-times eschatology. But they can express those disagreements without associating those with whom they disagree with rapists.

    If Carter's stance on the issue is right, then he should say why, period. Example: "I know what it says in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, but here's the context of that verse, and why it doesn't apply to modern church leaders." Or perhaps "see this verse about the prophetess named Deborah. "

    If you're right, you don't need to resort to false accusations. And what he said about those who believe in male-only church leadership is, for many and probably most of them, a false accusation. Satan's the father of lies, and we serve a God of truth.

    In short, Carter's method of delivering the message isn't just sorta wrong. It's diabolical.

  9. Hmmm...interesting exchange, gentlemen. I have to admit though, phrases such as, "whitewashed tombs" and "Get behind me, Satan" are coming to my mind at the moment. They are certainly examples of what I would consider Christian "name calling," albeit by the Son of God who was never disappointed, never offended, according to Oswald Chambers, because he knew what is in men.

    So, I hear what James is saying. Carter is not the perfectly motived Christ, ergo he may be better off not calling names or attempting to walk on water, for that matter. He could have couched his observations with some passive language just for pcs. But the quickest glance at the SB leadership reveals a fiesty, fist-shaking Falwell style of preaching... Perhaps Carter merely spoke in a manner with which they are (all) accustomed? He was speaking to his peers, potentially trying to wake them up... right? I will assume that this wasn't the first time he referred to the issue, just the first time he formalized it and published it. Certainly he knows enough diplomacy to have a few water-cooler conversations before dropping a bomb like that.

    Nonetheless, his choice of words, given his context, is so minor to girl-me compared to his being a very public man standing up and telling his own denomination, you're off your rocker in regards to women. I understand how a careful, prayerful study of the issue can bring two different conclusions at two different times. I've firmly agreed with both sides no less than 10 times ... And I've come to the conclusion that women in leadership is continues to be nebulous because it IS nebulous. How gender roles are handled depends every bit as much on individual emotional and spiritual maturity as it does on what church one attends on which side of the tracks, how committed the relationship is and who is in what physical shape. But the bottom line is: we've all let each other down. And we're called to lay down our rights for Christ anyway and follow his lead. Some days, that means I keep my mouth shut to men and women alike--other days, not so much. It's not about my personal right to x, y, z--such as the right to eat particular meat or drink beer. It's a matter of does doing it right here, right now hurt a weaker brother or sister? And did I remember to ask? Seeking God for discernment in those cases is our call for acting blameless before God, not the law. We just don't need to ask Him whether we can steal or commit adultery. Those are pretty crystal. Wise as serpents sounds a little diabolical, unless it's paired with the innocence of a dove.

    So, I guess I'm a little disappointed that Mr. Carter felt he needed to take such a firm formal stance on the xyz issue. He reads a little angry, a little bitter, a little condescending; looking for someone to blame. But as a gal, I'm incredibly, incredibly grateful--and admittedly, a little justified, a little defended--that in this case, a man was the one shaking his fist at other men. In that case, I say, "You go, Jimmy!"

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  11. Kim, thanks for your response. I don't agree with you 100%, but it's a darn good response, and carter could learn a thing or two from you.

    When I state, as I have numerous times, that Christian unity is important, I'm not advocating that we all agree. I'm saying that it is possible to disagree, even passionately, without crossing certain lines, and to be honest, I don't know where those lines are each time. But by lumping the SB leaders in with those who advocate rape and female circumcision, he's definitely on the wrong side of the line.

  12. It's telling that Carter's essay appeared in The "Age" Journal. I believe he's a man who has seen much in his days and came to a had-all-I-can-stands moment with the cradle he was faithed in and said "enough." I feel his decision was made long ago personally; he just now made it public.

    If he's just an old fart dribbling on his bib, then pooh on him. But if he's an older man trying to get us to pay attention to something by using prophetic language which has always been filled with broad, sweeping statements and a some name calling, then maybe I should listen.

    I have no way of knowing this, but my fear is the leaders of which he speaks will take his actions as a red badge of courage of sorts..."well, Jimmy finally lost his scriptural moorings and now he's adrift out there."

  13. I hate to disrupt a good rant with context. James, in the context of the essay Carter was speaking about religious abuses within the contexts of world religions and not specifically the Southern Baptists.

    Carter writes from his Christian faith but serves on a multi-faith organization known as The Elders.

    He was speaking as such.

  14. Larry, I know that context is everything. It is my stance that the flow of the article ties the Southern Baptist leaders (1st paragraph) with those who commit the aforementioned atrocities (2nd and 3rd paragraphs), and that the article was written so that such a connection is inevitable in the mind of the reader.

  15. And by the way, why do refer to my objection as a "rant?" What constitutes a rant? Is that comment in the same league with Carter's choice to cast in the worst possible light those who disagree with him? I thought you were better than that, Larry.

  16. Correction: I know you're better than that.

  17. As a woman raised up in the Southern Baptist tradition of which Carter speaks, I don't have a problem with his context or his references. And I'm quite proud of Carter for a whole bunch of reasons and this is just one more. Still, I understand that for Carter to make this move is no small matter. It's a move that rents at the very fabric of his upbringing. It would be akin to a Mormon deciding to become a Pentacostal. It means putting yourself at odds with your family, your friends and your family's history and tradition.
    I left the SBC a long time ago but it was a difficult thing for me to do even though I belong to a different generation than Carter and have less of a family history and tradition with the SBC than he does. I think we are all aware that his work has given Carter a broader persepective on issue of human rights for women. That the SBC continues to lack such a perspective is to their own detriment. This bickering over whether women ought to be leaders in the church is so passe as far as I'm concerned. The church ought to just be thankful to have people willing to serve given the need for hands and feet to do the serving. A thirsty person doesn't care whether you zip your pants in the front or on the side. What they care about is whether can you lift a bucket of water.

  18. Why James, a "rant" is when someone emphatically holds a position with which I disagree.

    Sorry for the word choice.

  19. And James, I don't believe that the connections you made were inevitable. I understand that its how you and some others read it. But that's not the same thing as it being inevitable.