jimmy carter leaves the southern baptist convention: “losing my religion over equality”


I read this piece from former President, Jimmy Carter, over the weekend explaining his decision to sever his ties with the South Baptist Convention – after being an active member for six decades.  While I don’t agree with everything he writes, I agreed with the crux of his column: Enough is enough.

Most of you are aware of my hermeneutics and convictions pertaining to the issue of equality of women and my full support for women in all levels of leadership in the Church. I’ve written numerous posts about the issue but here are some worth checking out:

I hate to admit it but it still seems lonely with that “position” so I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be a woman – called by God – but seen not only as “unqualified” but in essence, “living in sin” for being deceived…a la Eve all over again.  

We have two female pastors at Quest Church: One is in Tanzania, Africa right now with one of our elders working on a partnership to build (and celebrate) the opening of the inital phases of a community center. Reports has it she represented our church and more importantly, the Gospel as she preached at a local Tanzanian church last Sunday and the other is preaching this upcoming Sunday from Acts 27:27-44 (which I am very much looking forward to).

I guess it’s hard to not read this column by Jimmy Carter through our respective lens but as we do, I think it’s worth chatting about. Let’s have our usual respectful dialogue:

What do you think?

It’s important to note that President Carter writes in the larger context of the injustice against women in the global world including his “interpretation” of the larger segments of Western Christianity including the SBC.

Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.

I HAVE been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. 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.

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.

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.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices – as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

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.

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.”

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 emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. 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.

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.

60 Replies to “jimmy carter leaves the southern baptist convention: “losing my religion over equality””

  1. I enjoyed his column very much. While I think I understood what he was trying to say, I also felt a little uncomfortable that he was lumping SBC and other folks that hold different views of women with “in some Islamic nations…”

  2. I really had no idea Jimmy Carter was of this worldview. He just went way up in my estimation.

    @Bruce: I think it was an important comparison to make. It’s easy to assume that Islam is oppressive to women while not seeing the similarity to how one’s own strain of Christianity is oppressive to women, gays, and ethnic minorities.

  3. “We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women.”
    This really stuck out to me, as did your rob bell article. I have often struggled with feeling as though change for women is a battle they fight alone but the thought of leaders – most likely male – coming alongside women and challenging this issue on all fronts would be so encouraging!

  4. I think the crux of the differences lies in whether people consider the scriptures to be authoritative overt their lives – or subject to interpretation under their own worldview…

    This quote really illustrates a key difference between the sides for/against women serving in the pastoral role.

    “The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.”

    1. “who is greater? the one who sends, or the one who is sent?” Jesus spoke this of Himself. He is subordinate to His Father, as He obeys Him. And does His Father’s will. He is the sent. His Father is the sender.
      That is why we have them named Father and Son- it is Jesus’ position in relation to His Father God, explained in a way the ancients understood and we should understand- fathers always commanded the entire household and their children. They did not have an age of majority, the hierarchy was lifelong .
      The sons ALWAYS obeyed the fathers , it is called patriarchy for a reason. The eldest Father was king of the family, as long as they lived. There is NO disgrace in having a hierarchy of people. Only if the people in charge are evil. But God is not, and we as Christians have the ability also to be as good as possible to the underlings that we so love.
      By that token, i think there must also be Matriarchs. So the elder women must also be regarded as queens over the other women in their household. this is a most ancient way of living for many cultures, and it seems evident in the bible.
      I realize tis isn’t modern american, but it’s pretty much Biblical. Their culture wasn’t ours, and God’s way isn’t our way unless we make His way, our way.

  5. I am glad to see someone who is as well respected as Jimmy Carter speaking out on this issue. It did seem however, that he was laying on the SBC the atrocities that women are subjected to around the world. Nonetheless, he speaks from the heart. Clearly he is compassionate man, justifably intolerant of the poor treatment of women around the world.
    I have known many women leaders in the church, and they sincerly seek the Lord’s counsel in all their decisions and did a lot to further the Kingdom of God. A woman also sometimes adds a fresh perspective. I do not think this is an issue of “I am woman, hear me roar.” It is simply that God made women with able minds and special gifts to be used in all aspects of ministry. It was not his intent for the world to wipe their dirty boots on them, or for them to be relagted to serving only in minor capacities because they are only women, lacking the brains and know how to further the KIngdom of God in the rold of leadership.

    1. Biblically i think Paul had a lot to do with it, and i often wonder about him and, who was he again? not an Apostle who walked with Christ.
      But, i think even biblically women CAN teach other women and children, or that stray man who happens in to the women’s ministry. Women CAN also prophecy and exercise gifts that are for anyone to benefit by. One doesn’t want to ever suppress the literal and immediate Voice of God, for instance. Women can also pinch-hit in t he absence of adequate menfolk as well. We already know that. They can also be special envoys and agents where a woman can serve a purpose better .
      There is a scripture that says ” it’s a disgrace for women to lead”. Why? it’s because women having to lead means the men are not up to par, are absent, or failing, etc. The disgrace isn’t on t he women. It’s a shame and a burden if they have to make up for what men are supposed to be doing though. Many times i have seen women grow too old too fast, by having to take on too much, instead of men doing their part .
      Women not teaching men, is probably a generality and it’s not given by the mouth of Christ as i recall. So there would possibly be exceptions to t he rule , for some good reason, but only if the Lord says so in real time for that instance..

  6. I appreciated President Carter’s comments. However, I thought that he misrepresented, as many conservatives also do, the areas where the submission of women are mentioned in scripture. Few people mention the responsibilities places upon men in those passages. Given the misogynistic nature of society at that time the instructions given to men in how to regard their wives and children was very progressive. It is is easy to react the the word submissive because it seems harsh. But if you look at scripture as a whole instead of nitpicking at certain verses you see that God, Christ, and the men of the early church honor women with a respect that rarely exists in our culture.

  7. @ Imageodei – True submission involves choice, not coercion, intimidation or intentional subjugation. That’s what makes the Son’s sacrifice so valuable and these archaic practices abhorrent. As Carter mentioned, some have used the Bible to justify slavery and other less than charitable practices.

  8. While I too am a firm believer in considering and treating everyone with respect and love of Christ, I am saddened to see another soul being sold out to the devil’s scheme under the name of human rights and social justice. How lofty his speech sounds! How righteous his courage appears! How dare he mock Jesus’ teaching by lining him up with “Muhammad and founders of other great religions” Perfect illustration of signs of our time – pluralistic worldview and eclectic faith of diplomacy.

  9. I found former president Carter’s column a little heavy-handed. While I share the egalitarian view of women in Scripture, I believe the column goes a little too far in its suggestion that the Christian complementarian view is akin to the Islamic view of gender, or that a complementarian view is connected to slavery, sex trafficking, and other gender-related injustices. Such things are indeed repugnant, but to imply that the SBC might be complicit in such things by virtue of its stand on gender and church leadership, is irresponsible.

    Furthermore, the column paints an unrealistic historical picture of the role of women in the early church, positing a golden age of powerful women leaders followed by a chauvinist crackdown by fourth-century religious Scripture-twisters. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. There have been women leaders in every age of the church, including the post-fourth-century middle ages. But until recent times, it has always been the exception rather than the norm– and that includes the early church. There were examples of women in various leadership roles, but most leaders were men, and pretty much all the primary leaders were men. Otherwise there’s no way Paul could have written some of the “problem passages” such as 1Tim 2:8-15.

    Nevertheless, I do echo other commenters here in applauding Carter for publicly taking a stand that was probably difficult for him. And I agree fundamentally that it is a misinterpretation of Scripture to unilaterally exclude women from leadership roles because of gender. The New Testament witness is highly diverse in its content and message, simply because it speaks to a social context, the Greco-Roman empire, that was every bit as diverse and pluralist as our own. Many individual books or verses speak to particular situations within the church where discipline and a restoration of order was required. Today too, I’ve seen times when feminist activists have swung the pendulum far in the other direction, disrupting church communities and obscuring the cause of Christ in favor of their gender-related agendas. To them, as to certain first-century communities, Saint Paul has a clear message: “you must learn again to submit!” But as a whole, the New Testament paints an image of the arriving Kingdom that is radically egalitarian for its time, something that we should remember as we think about what the Kingdom should look like today.

  10. I can see where he’s coming from. Its a little difficult for the Church to speak out against the subjugation of women (which is very different from submission) when it hasn’t gotten its own house in order.

    How can we demand freedom for women in Islamic regimes to choose what they will wear, when women in the church still feel dictated to in this area? They might not be told to wear a veil, and there might be some limit to acceptable disregard for custom, but there are still churches where women have to cover their hair.

    These power-dynamics must be sorted out before we strike back. And part of that work relies on men listening to women explain time and time again how they are being pushed to the back of the queue, so that (we) men can learn the humility to tackle our own blind ignorance that is so often the key factor in this mess.

    One way I’ve been doing this is by running a guest column on Gender issues on my blog each Saturday for the last few weeks. Its created some interesting discussions, and hopefully opened a few eyes.

  11. Just to clear something up: Complementarianism teaches that men and women are completely equal yet are made different for different roles. Women can most definitely serve as pastors and deacons so long as they are submitted to male leadership i.e. they can lead ministries within the local church so long as the lead pastor is a male.

    Some reason, people are equating complementarianism to chauvinism and that is way incorrect.

  12. @Daniel Azuma: I appreciate your fair-handedness in your response. You mention that “… as a whole, the New Testament paints an image of the arriving Kingdom that is radically egalitarian for its time.” I think it’s important to note that this is no longer true of the modern church. The church that once demonstrated freedom and egalitarianism to society now drags its feet behind a society that has fully embraced the message.

    Whether one believes the church should continue towards further egalitarianism or not it’s important to note that (by our own choice) we’re no longer the standard-bearers of equality.

  13. I have all my life been reared in egalitarian contexts, and still consider myself one. My first pastor was a woman. It is only in recent years that I have began to moderate (or alter if you will) my views in light of increasing discomfort with the hermeneutic underlying much of egalitarian’s approach to scripture.

    That being said, Carter’s letter is self serving and political in nature. He caricatures and conflates vastly differing ideas under a generalized rubric of oppression and then sets himself (and others) apart as having reached some sort of enlightened perch from which he can easily resolve challenging questions of religious scholarship and ethical practice, though he is not trained to do so. His words are irresponsible and lend credence to a virulent anti-Christian agenda that holds as foundational the notion that religion is inherently oppressive and injurious to the interests of women. This is not true.

    As for his interpretation of history and scripture, it is problematic for us though not for the scriptural writers that slavery is not condemned in its pages. We cannot make the text say what we wish it said, unsettling though it may be. It is likewise discomforting that the Bible no where explicitly or implicitly instructs husbands to submit to their wives or restricts their leadership based on gender. While Christians rightfully wrestle with the implication of these passages and come to differing conclusions, to suggest simply that some mean old patriarchs got together in a room and decided to put the wimmins in their place is an insult to all those who have sought to faithful interpret and live out the gospel both presently and historically.

    Every generation is tempted to baptize the status quo of their society with divine authority and ours perhaps more than others given our embedded cultural assumptions that what is more recent is likely better, more progressive, and more authentic than what has come before. We see St. Paul as being captive to his culture and to the empire while we ourselves are not, never noticing that what Carter for example suggests actually puts him in alignment with the larger society and at odds with historic and traditional Christian understandings.

    As a side note, for every woman made to cover their hair in church, a man had to take off his hat.

    1. are you kidding? the NT tells husbands to submit to their wives, and tells women to submit to their husbands. I think the two might have different nuances of meaning, but it is there. while also saying that the man is the head of the woman. ( as a married couple).

  14. @Jack – you raise an important point, but it is important to note that the supposed “radical egalitarianism” of scripture was not an end in itself, but was rather in service to something else. What might the prophetic witness of the church look like in a society that emphasizes rights and autonomy over almost all other concerns? Is it not possible that within such a world willing submission and bondedness over against one’s own will or self interest might speak powerfully about other aspects of the gospel?

  15. @Joe:
    “Complementarianism teaches that men and women are completely equal yet are made different for different roles. […] Some reason, people are equating complementarianism to chauvinism and that is way incorrect.”

    I couldn’t disagree with you more. Complementarianism to women is in the same spirit as “Separate but Equal” was to blacks. There are too many churches where brilliant young girls are told that they’d make an excellent nurse, teacher, or pastor’s wife. They need to be told that they can be prophets, engineers, pastors, priests, social leaders, and that they have all the potential of any man to make decisions for themselves and for others. They need to be told that they don’t need to marry or have children to be significant and important. Paul didn’t. It’s a serious problem that most churches still balk at these ideas.

    The bottom line for me is that it’s unacceptable for a young woman to have to leave her church to find a place of full empowerment.

  16. @elderj:

    “willing submission and bondedness over against one’s own will or self interest might speak powerfully […]?”

    I absolutely agree with you. The difference I see was that even in the early church the message was “You are completely free and equal. Now willingly submit to one another as a response to how God has loved you”.
    Now that we have a society that embraces and upholds that freedom out message is still one of willing submission as a response to God’s love.

    The problem is when the church attempts to make the submission mandatory. That’s an act that not only hurts whichever group is selected for subservience but seriously distorts the gospel. If a woman submits to her husband because she has no other choice that is not an act of the gospel. It’s only when she doesn’t need to that there’s any beauty in the act.

  17. Can you imagine what the scene among eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Christians would have looked like had their been a blogosphere in their day?

    Well-intentioned pro-slavery Christians would’ve spouted lines about how these wild abolitionists just didn’t understand the authority of Scripture and were placing too much emphasis on noting authorial context when they should accept first-century context as the God-ordained normative condition for the Kingdom and broader culture.

    The pro-slavery types would’ve also made claims that slave and slave-masters are truly equal — they just have “different roles” in societal structures. The abolitionists would’ve been left to shake their heads and cry out for justice anyway.

    Folks like Charles Finney, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and William Wilberforce surely would’ve had the “traditionalists” spewing wrath against them (in 140 characters or less).

    We have little trouble understanding that past generations of Christians had some monsters in their closets, yet we can’t even admit when the same is true of us today.

  18. @paulglavic – true perhaps, but do we know what monsters are in our closets? It is only with the passage of time and the adoption of what we presume to be better arrangements that we judge our predecessors. Who are we to judge another man’s servant whether that servant be past or present? We look with pity (or disdain) on the judgments of Christians who have preceded us, never uttering aloud what we ask in our minds, “How could they be so stupid?” The challenge for believers is to faithfully guard the “good deposit” and to pass on what we have received, all the while endeavoring to live faithfully in light of the gospel. We do this no less than those who have come before us and perhaps we ought to aim to be well regarded by our ancestors rather than our descendants.

  19. I have to say that as someone reared in the churches of the SBC, I find much to agree with in President Carter’s words. After over 40 years of listening to men’s opinions veiled as “doctrine” over such issues such as the equality of women and the two favorite demons of the SBC – abortion and gay rights – I hit my limit and also divorced myself from self-righteous arguments served up as “the word of God”. While the causal link Carter attempts to establish is provocative and controversial, he is perfectly logical in his assertion that the use of a few scriptural passages to justify the right to prevent women from serving in leadership roles in the church is akin to using similar passages on slavery to justify its practice. It is especially irresponsible for church leaders to refuse to understand the power in their beliefs expressed as words of doctrine. It is precisely the power of those words that leads to the possibility and reality of actual practices that can be justified because they are seen as an authorization by a “higher authority”.

  20. @Jack Danger: This was beautifully put. Thanks! …

    “You are completely free and equal. Now willingly submit to one another as a response to how God has loved you… The problem is when the church attempts to make the submission mandatory. That’s an act that not only hurts whichever group is selected for subservience but seriously distorts the gospel. If a woman submits to her husband because she has no other choice that is not an act of the gospel. It’s only when she doesn’t need to that there’s any beauty in the act.”

  21. @misterhavens: i’m an egalitarian and while i appreciate the spirit behind the letter, there were couple things – already highlighted by couple commenters that just didn’t sit well with me as well.

    in short, i thought there were two columns in this one piece. and while i agree with his statement that: “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…”

    There are those the are genuinely trying to submit to the “authority of the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit” and rest on the other side of this “issue.”

  22. i was surprised to know (Carter’s account of) the SBC’s reason for women submitting to men. i learned the same principle, but with very different (and more biblical, i think) logic. i learned that as a woman i should submit to my father or husband (not that women should submit to men in general) and that this actually gave more responsibility to the man in question. if he is to be followed, he has to try harder to make better and more responsible decisions.

    my husband has different ideas: he likes equality of the sexes. he thinks my more “traditional” idea is unfair to men (precisely because the responsibility is not shared equally). so i pretty much go along with his more “modern” culture (funny thing is, i was raised by americans and he was not!) and we actually do OK with the equal method, i guess.
    although everything i have said here is as accurate as i can manage in few words, there is some irony here…

  23. Thanks Eugene for providing space for thought and dialogue — once again (and you know it will continue :). Jimmy Carter has been a diplomat since his presidency as perhaps no one before him. So it seemed very “Carter-ish” to discover that a Baptist publication mentioned in 2000 that Carter had been meeting and trying to bring people from the SBC to the table concerning women in ministry. So while this may be “news” for many, this is not a sudden action on his part. It might just be a reflection of reaching the “end of the rope.”

    What is even more notable is that the SBC at one time did ordain women. Going back to 1964 the SBC was ordaining women and had ordained more than 400 women by the mid-1980’s. The turning point came with more conservative power coming into SBC leadership. In 1984 the convention stated that women were to be excluded form pastoral ministry to “preserve a submission God requires because the man was first in creation and the woman was first in the Edenic fall.” (Source: Edwin Guastad & Leigh Schmidt, The Religious History of America p. 389).

    1. hahahaha. so true, but the Genesis scripture specifically is about the husband having final say over the wife. Not all men having authority over all women. Eve was deceived, but Adam should have overruled her in her error, decided the matter and refused to allow her or himself to eat the Fruit of that tree.
      He did not assert what he knew to be right, because he was too submissive to his wife . it caused the Fall of ALL Mankind, death of humans, and constant human suffering and tragedy! to this very day. Do we really wanna perpetuate it? God told him to take authority over such things. When wifey is plain mistaken, and it’s real important, PUT YOUR FOOT DOWN. That is GOD’S OWN correction .

  24. i, too, share the conviction that all offices of the church should be open to women and truly am grateful for carter’s decision to leave the SBC… mostly because the SBC began swinging in a hyper-partisan direction that, today, often borders on elevating “conservatism” as a doctrine over scripture or the gospel itself.

    however, i find the following statement EXTREMELY troubling…

    “The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths.”

    is he positing that the apostle paul did not permit women (in ephesus) to teach or hold authority merely to hold onto his own influence?

    if so, this has SERIOUS implications as to his view of scriptural inspiration and integrity… and holding to such a view essentially permits scripture to justify anything in the EXACT same way that excessive literalism and de-contextualization can — not to mention… if our scriptures were written in self-serving chauvinism why hold to them at all?

    (fyi: elderj and daniellui are colleagues of mine. agreed with j that carter’s view of history/scripture is weak at best. carter was still our first true evangelical president.. but thankfully he was a president and not a preacher)

  25. @calvin:

    You said: ” if our scriptures were written in self-serving chauvinism why hold to them at all?”

    I believe that our scriptures were absolutely written in male-dominant chauvinism. We hold to them not because they are ideal but because they are what God has seen fit to give to us. Some parts are best followed – others are best mourned. Paul wrote miraculously good things. He also wrote (well, actually Ephesians and Collossians were written by somebody else) some totally reactionary stuff about gender that we would be most Godly if we avoided following.

    If you’re interested in seeing further how tragically male the bible is there are many resources out there. The easiest way to see it with your own eyes is to attempt to find any verse (in the *entire* book) that passes the Bechdel test. That is:
    1. There must be 2 women in it,
    2. who talk to each other,
    3. about something other than a man.

    In all my searching I haven’t been able to find a single verse/chapter/story that passes this simple test. So, yes, the bible is incredibly male-oriented. It’s none the less holy but it needs to be questioned unceasingly.

  26. Whether Paul was the actual author of the letter to Ephesus is irrelevant. The relevant questions are about scriptural authority and hermeneutics. I don’t view the Bible as “tragically male” nor do I think there is anything (doctrinally) to “mourn” though certainly somethings are mournful.

    How does one determine what is the godly thing to avoid in scripture? Or better said, by what authority(ies) do we evaluate scripture? Reason? Tradition? Sociology? Our own thoughts?

    And how do we judge those who wrote scripture, or indeed the generations that have struggled to live in light of it? What measure do we mete?

    No easy questions and fewer satisfactory answers

  27. “Or better said, by what authority(ies) do we evaluate scripture? Reason? Tradition? Sociology? Our own thoughts?”

    That’s basically the Wesleyan Quadrilateral 🙂 Scripture, tradition, reason, and personal experience. Those are the four primary ways John Wesley reflected theologically and it’s the best I’ve come up with so far. I was raised with Sola Scriptura and found it less than compelling.

    “Whether Paul was the actual author of the letter to Ephesus is irrelevant.” You’re right of course but I think it’s important to extinguish the argument that the same man was radically pro-woman and radically anti-woman. It’s all part of the same faith and all from early leaders but I think anybody looking for a synthesis of the gender theology between Ephesians and some of Paul’s more powerful verses will get pretty frustrated.
    Not that either should be rejected outright – they’re all part of our tradition. I just think that any pastor who professes to follow both perspectives on gender is fooling his/herself and will act on one rather than the other.

  28. Yes, I’m familiar with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral… I believe though we lean in our society far too readily on our subjective experience and limited reason and functionally operate as atheists. Thus our scriptural interpretation is very often wrong. And I use that word intentionally.

    I don’t think Paul (whether he is author of the disputed letters or not) is ever antiwoman.

  29. @jack

    hmm see i still hold to scriptural inspiration and authority. if paul, under God’s guidance, instructed timothy not to permit women in the ephesian church to teach, then i certainly give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that paul had godly, Christ-centered, “missional” reasons for doing so; reasons that were strategic, not reactionary, in their context.

    jimmy carter, for most of his adult life, claimed to hold to similar views on scriptural authority but seems to abandon, or stronlgy second guess them, in his statement. neither does carter try to argue that proper scriptural interpretation should lead to empowerment and honoring of women. he does not appeal to (male) christian leaders on the grounds of biblical or even christian integrity — he appeals to human rights and natural law.

    again, he was a president, not a theologian… but if he had withdrawn from the SBC on biblical grounds he may have given the conservative takeover of the SBC reason for pause.. or at least forced them to think a bit. his statement was probably dismissed by the SBC with a huff and lauded by secularists and religious liberals as another instance of someone realizing the automatic evil and chauvinism of all religious or evangelical institutions. carter missed a moment to articulate that the message of jesus, faithfully conveyed through scripture, presents a unique message of justice, healing, equality, and empowerment.

    1. pretty sure that scripture of Paul’s says don’t let women teach in the whole congregation or usurp authority over men. it doesn’t say women cannot teach other women or kids. And says nothing about uttering prophecy etc. Also another verse says that older women are to instruct and lead younger ones.

  30. @calvin: I think you’re right that Carter missed the opportunity to demonstrate his point in language that the SBC would understand and embrace. There are several theologians who effectively weave the empowerment of women and minorities into the message of Christ and an argument on those grounds might have held some sway.

    I personally think it’s no meager thing to serve human rights in a secular way – indeed I believe God considers justice-seeking secular humanists to be very much a part of his flock. But I’m not the SBC and you’re completely right that he set himself up for an easy dismissal. I think some other folks have tried making that point on this page but I’ve been too daft to understand that’s what they meant. Thanks for clarifying it for me.

    Now I feel a little sad about his letter. I wish it were written more for the sake of people who didn’t already agree with him.

  31. I appreciated a well-known person such as Carter drawing attention to the worldwide subjugation of women, and I thoroughly agree with him that many male Christian leaders of the centuries and currently in the majority of churches misread Scripture to diminish women (including the complementarian pretense of “roles” – gag!). However, I believe that Paul, in particular, is misread by men to be in accord with them in the maleness. I.e., if one reads Paul according to one’s maleness (i.e., not “in Christ” – cf. Gal. 3:28), one misreads Paul. (Also true for women, btw.)

    Furthermore, if one reads Paul prior to being dead to the law (cf. Rom. 7:4), one reads Paul as the NT Moses, with scads of new commandments to obey – and being male, most church leaders pick the ones that suit their carnal male-biased views of women. (It so helps to win an argument in a marriage when one is male & knows how to oppress with Bible quotes. )

    So, @elderj & @calvin, IMHO, your hermeneutic is located within your undead gender and your lively legalism. When I read Paul in the Greek, it is quite obvious to me that male translators have – whether inadvertently or not – translated him according to their maleness. “In Christ” Paul is an egalitarian through and through, and I read his words as such.

  32. @jack: Thanks for appreciating the point I was trying to make. I agree with you that serving human rights in a secular way is an approach that should not be ignored in the kingdom of God that, unfortunately, often is within the evangelical Church. But yes, Carter missed a moment to witness both inside and outside of the Church. Instead, he uses an unhelpful comparison to Islamic fundamentalism, an easily ignored (in that setting) characterization of Scripture, and a sloppy golden-age narrative, a reincarnation of the historiographical abuses of fundamentalists and the Religious Right. Props to Daniel Akuma for pointing this out and also Nancy for pointing out Carter’s inconsistent mischaracterization of Scripture.

    @Ann: I believe we are in agreement on hermeneutics. My alarm is not with Carter pointing out that men have misinterpreted or misread Paul for their own gain (of course they have!). My alarm is with Carter second-guessing the motives of Paul himself. BOTH elderj and I agree with you that Paul, properly interpreted, preaches a message of equality and empowerment for women. I believe Paul (or the author of 1 Tim) had a clear, specific, limited, and contextually-appropriate rationale for 2:12 and that proper hermeneutics of that passage reconciles this.

    Glad you pointed out my “undead gender” according to my male first name. Though syntax often provides some clues toward a writer’s gender, I’m not sure of what led you to assume that elderj is male. Perhaps it was a cultural assumption that elders are male?

  33. @Calvin: I’ve encountered many “undead” gendered people reading Paul not to make the assumption that any commenting here must be necessarily male/female. However, the fact is that the *vast* majority of translators are men. Women who read Paul “undead” find me a walking, talking, preaching, pastoring challenge to their choices. Some are encouraged, and others want to take out their discouragement on me. Men who read Paul “undead” mainly try to tell me that I don’t love, honor or hear God and the Word. I’m also not sure that Carter 2nd-guessed Paul’s motives. It’s my guess that 90%+ of church-goers haven’t been taught how to read the Word “in Christ” because 90%+ of pastors and seminary professors don’t do it themselves, or know how to convey it properly. The best profs I had modeled it, but I don’t recall ever being specifically challenged on how we naturally read “in our flesh.” Our modern/academic default, then, is to explain the problem away with historical context.

    FWIW, I came to this understanding because I determined to “love” Paul the way I saw God-in-Christ loving me when I was translating & exegeting 1 Corinthians. What a gift of love the Holy Spirit gave me in Paul’s words, and how saddened I became at how he’s been mis/abused! BTW, the passage in 1 Tim. 2 is directly connected to Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians, imho.

  34. Jesus set Women FREE to Speak his Word to Men
    the Day he was Resurrected/

    John 20:17/ Jesus gives Mary a Word from him to
    give to the Men/ She Obeys him/ but the Men do not believe. Again I say/ that JESUS himself appeared to Mary/ a Women/ and Gave her Gods WORD to give to the Men/ So this Settles the whole matter/

    Men Refuse to Grow up Spiritually/ and Live by FAITH in the Fact that we are All One in Christ JESUS/ Not going to be/ we either are/ or your Not Born Again, of the same Spirit.

    How can we all be part of the Same Body/ and have a different sex?

    Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.


  35. I just preached on Gal. 3:28, and found myself being driven back to the very nature of the Triune God.

    The Bible presents us with Three Persons of equally infinite worth and mutually infinite love in One Unity. And it presents us with Two Persons who voluntarily submit themselves in love to the Father without losing any dignity or intrinsic value. Submitting even to the point of death on a cross and giving up all their rights to serve and save sinners like me.

    Unless we do justice to both sides–God in His equal Personhood, and God in His submission within Himself in His labors, we will end up doing gross injustice to Him. We will misrepresent/misuse His Word to make an idol out of equality or an idol out of hierarchy–and both idolatries harm others.

    The true enemy is within all of us–the tyrant “King Me” that oppresses, abuses, and destroys ourselves and others. And it seems to me that, in his denunciation and rejection of his fellow believers, Carter has gratified His own “King Me” and provoked a lot of other “King Me”‘s out there.

  36. What principles of interpretation are you following? You know nothing of hermenutics if you come to any other conclusions. This is the world speaking, not the Word speaking. Repent!

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