Keeping a Good Woman Down

jimmy-carterFormer President Jimmy Carter just called it quits with the Southern Baptist Church after church leaders decided to continue to prohibit women from being ordained and insisted that women be “subservient to their husbands.”

Here are a couple things Carter had to say on the matter in an essay published in The Age:

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 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.

So, how do I feel about this?

Good for him.

I think that too many Christian denominations and churches hold to a very antiquated and inappropriate interpretation of male and female roles based on both a misunderstanding of the Bible and an inability to discern that certain things talked about in the Bible were meant to flow with changing times.

A lot of folks give Paul shit for a number of things, among them the way he “hijacked” the early church and made his own personal doctrine. But he also gets a bad rap for the way he viewed women. This is, after all a guy who said that women should be silent in church and that men were at the top of the decision-making heirarchy in the family.

Two things.

First, even if you think Paul is a sexist ass-hat, let’s remember how Jesus treated women, and let’s agree that Jesus wouldn’t much like the idea of treating women like idiots, treating them badly, or lording oneself over them.

Second, I don’t think Paul was a sexist douche-nozzle.

Bear with me ladies (and some of you men, too)…

Yes, Paul did talk about women remaining silent in the churches and women being beneath men in the heirarchy of God -> Jesus -> Husband -> Wife -> Children.

But this is also the guy who had some notable women doing evangelism in what seems to be a pretty equal role with their husbands. Paul is also the guy who said not just that a woman’s body belongs to her husband, but that a husband’s body belongs to his wife. This isn’t saying you can abuse your spouse, because he specifically speaks out against that. What it is, people, is the first biblical recognition in the New Testament epistles that men and women become partners when they marry, and belong to each other. That they need to work with each other and make decisions together about a variety of things.

It is my feeling that Paul talked about silence in the church with women primarily because education of women wasn’t exactly a priority back then. They would have been among the least prepared people to address doctrine. This is likely also why he spoke against women pastoring churches. He clearly realized that women could add value and be strong in their own right, or he would have spoken out against Priscilla and other women doing evangelistic work. But in his time, as a whole, women were not in a good position to be speaking on doctrine, and often what Paul wrote was more specific to issues facing the church at that time, and not meant to be doctrine for the long run.

Likewise, in a world where women couldn’t inherit much of anything and didn’t have much in the way of rights, what is he going to say other than “the man is head of household.” To claim otherwise and to encourage women to do otherwise would have been madness, and wouldn’t have paid off for those women in the end. Which is probably why he stressed the need for husbands to honor and respect their wives, and for Christians to honor widows and support them.

Paul probably did have certain male chauvinist tendencies. How could he not, given the culture in which he was raised? But many things in his writings show that the early Christian church was supposed to uplift women, not keep them down, and that is a message that too few male church leaders today are paying attention to.

Jimmy Carter has, and I hope that others will follow his example.

29 thoughts on “Keeping a Good Woman Down

  1. TitforTat

    Second, I don’t think Paul was a sexist douche-nozzle.(Deacon)

    Rather than taking Paul at face value(reading his own words), Im sure there are many out there who will take your watered down version. Another reason why scripture has no actual concrete way to read it. Leave it up to the individual.

  2. Deacon Blue

    TitforTat, I also base my feelings about Paul on the fact that many of his statements have lost their more subtle and nuanced messages in the translation to English. This isn’t just me watering down Paul. The man is not nearly the jerk or usurper that he is made out to be. If anything, he’s among those who most dramatically put their neck on the line to help give cohesiveness to things.

    And the moment you give me anything besides MAYBE a computer coding manual that has a “concrete way to read it” and nothing left to interpretation, please share. Novels, memoirs, legislation, handbooks, newspapers, magazines, historical texts…all of them and more open to interpretation by individuals. Let’s not ding the Bible as being unique in this regard.

  3. Big Man


    Cats who don’t read scripture, don’t read commentary and don’t bother to try to understand the nuances of the Bible have no place calling your comments watered down.

    Your points about Paul’s comments being specific to certain situations, just like Paul telling the members fo the church at Corinth to avoid long hair and short hair depending on their gender, were not meant to be applied generally. They were letters to specific churches that addressed some specific points and some general doctrine points.

    Tit for Tat, if you refuse to admit that the Bible requiires a nuanced reading, then that’s your loss. But, using your stubborness to make asinine points only makes you look bad.

  4. Deacon Blue

    I have to admit that I myself, even as a Christian, had fallen into the trap sometimes of wondering, “What the hell is up with Paul anyway?” And so, while it irritates me at times that folks deny that the Bible is a nuanced tome, I have to remind myself that I haven’t always let myself be as aware as I should be that the English translation isn’t the whole story and it’s only very recently I’ve come to appreciate how contextual Paul’s letters can be…as you’ve noted, often addressing specific issues at specific regions/churches.

  5. Lindsey

    I don’t ever want to STOP wandering what’s up with Paul. Stop wondering, stop asking questions, and you stop getting answers. I want to wrestle with my faith, I want to have questions to take before God, I want to keep getting challenged and keep having to grow.

    I get very deeply disturbed when someone demands I don’t question, because that always smacks of superiority. That brand of Christianity that has all the answers? Keep it away from me. Thinking we can understand God (or the Bible) makes God (or the Bible) smaller than He (it) ought to be.

    No thanks.

  6. Deacon Blue

    Well, I’d like to stop wondering with Paul on one or two things. 😉

    Seriously, though, I agree with you. Faith is supposed to be a journey and the Bible is the authoritative trail guide. And sometimes, trails get washed out, trees fall along them, etc. And we have to make adjustments in our approach and path.

    Too many people want to use the Bible as a cookie cutter for every situation instead, and that’s a role it was never meant to fill.

  7. 32B

    I agree Lindsey. I have way more questions than people have time to explain to me. And, when you aren’t as knowledgeable as others, they tell you what they “know” Paul meant instead of allowing you to read and decide for yourself. When you do make your own interpretation you get ostracized….but that’s an extreme example.

  8. TitforTat

    Big Man

    By the way, did you ever check out those vids I left for ya? I thought you and Deacon might get a smile or two from them.

    Tit for Tat, if you refuse to admit that the Bible requires a nuanced reading, then that’s your loss. But, using your stubborness to make asinine points only makes you look bad.(Big Man)

    Now now, no need to get personal, if you call me stubborn, I may call you ignorant. If you would like I can give you the definition too. 😉

  9. Deacon Blue

    You mean these vids:

    Yeah, I checked them out. Pretty funny stuff. Never heard of Russell Peters before and can honestly say that’s probably my first time seeing an Indian stand-up comedian.

    Given the context of our earlier discussion, I had expected them to be something else entirely.

  10. TitforTat

    Glad you liked them. I thought they might bring a lighter side in regards to the race thingie. I must admit though, you have made me think a little more about my “whiteness” and how that has helped me. I wonder though, if I would think the same way if I was in a black nation.

  11. Deacon Blue

    In a black majority nation where the black people are actually in control (as opposed to, say, South Africa during the time of apartheid, when white privilege was very much the thing), the dynamic would be totally different. White privilege wouldn’t exist most likely. And there might very well be reasons to feel persecuted as a white person in many (perhaps most) of those nations.

    Anyway, in case you were wondering before you send those clips, I am able to see race from the lighter side. The Original Kings of Comedy is one of the “must view often” DVDs around this house. Race is just not something I’m generally going to make light of myself much around here, particularly when I’m trying to draw attention to something I think is vital to racial understanding.

  12. Big Man

    Tit for Tat

    Did you know the Gospel aren’t in the order they were written?

    That the one written closest to Jesus’ death, the Gospel of Mark, was written soley as a missionary tool, almost an afterthought?

    Did you know that the longest gospel, Luke, was written by a Gentile who never actually saw Jesus and depended solely on what he was told that Christ said or did to create the book?…

    Did you actually think that your revelation about the Paul’s letters was something earth shattering or profound? Did you think that revelation would shock and astound me into abandoning God?

    The sad thing is that you’ve never considered that perhaps I’m well aware of many of the “problems” with the Bible. Perhaps I’ve struggled with disbelief and disillusion as it pertains to my faith. You have never considered that maybe, just maybe, I approached God in a logical quest for truth, and my faith is based on that experience, not some rote recitation of dogma.

    You haven’t considered that because it ruins your fantasy. Which is too bad. But, I’ve noticed that you tend to cling to fantasies, like the one you have about Canada not having “race problems” despite its despicable treatment of the “Indians” who lived their before any white man set foot in North America.

  13. Deacon Blue

    Hence why I used the word “might” when I said there could be reason for whites to feel persecuted. I wasn’t entirely sure of how things are in otehr nations. But at the same time, though I don’t have personal knowledge or insight into this area, I still suspect that white privilege has a whole different flavor and nature in such places. Not that it doesn’t exist, but that is probably takes different forms. I base this assumption that the dynamic would probably be totally different on the fact that white privilege has different permutations even between different majority white nations, at least on a subtle level. I would think the differences in such privilege would be more overt/distinct in many majority black nations.

    Then again, I was wrong about my notion that the Cubs would get to the World Series and win it…on many occasions.

    But my statement that it probably wouldn’t exist in most such nations is an assumption I probably shouldn’t have made

  14. TitforTat

    I approached God in a logical quest for truth, and my faith is based on that experience, not some rote recitation of dogma.(Big Man)

    Whether you have had a logical experience of the “Christian God” you choose to worship is another question altogether. We could debate that one for a long time I’m sure.

    You haven’t considered that because it ruins your fantasy.(Big Man)

    I have no fantasy, I am well aware of all the racist assholes out there. I have though been informed of some different ways in which I may partake in the continuation of this problem. It has been noted, I will be more aware in the future.

    Im curious though. It seems you are well aware of all the nasty things the white folks have brought you black folks. Why is it you dont have that same disdain for the other thing they brought. JESUS.

  15. Big Man

    Tit for Tat

    Answer me this, do you think Ancient Hebrews were white?

    Cause if you don’t, then white folks didn’t introduce Jesus to black folks.

    See, the idea that black folks only learned about Christianity through slavery or European missionary work ignores the Bible, let alone other historical information.

    But, I’ll let you research that. Instead, I’ll ask you why you would assume that because I have a problem with some actions of white people, I have to have a problem with EVERY action of white people?

    Does that seem logical to you? If it does, then we should probably skip any discussion based on logic. We seem to have two different definitions.

  16. Lindsey


    Disdain for the things of this world is natural. People shouldn’t “love” even the better things that “white” people have given them. (Although I think it’s fair to point out that many fine things America has to offer are not the province of white people- our agriculture is owed to the natives, many industrial advances are due to people of color- even the ice cream cone wasn’t a white man’s dream.)

    A response of love and gratitude towards God is natural and good- no matter *how* God is introduced into one’s life- by the sword of the Spaniard or the barrel of the pilgrim’s gun or the whip of the slave owner.

    And if you’re talking about missions: There are Christian settlements in Egypt dating back to the time of the disciples, and there was a radiating effect outward. I can’t remember off of the top of my head if there are other settlements heading southward on the African continent, but the most radical missions work ever attempted was done well before our time. The disciples DID spread the word in a most AMAZING way, and while they weren’t black they certainly weren’t white. I don’t know you, so I won’t attempt to read into your comment what may or may not be there- just to caution against thoughts of superiority.

    Christianity isn’t a gift of white men, it’s a gift from God. When people have a positive reaction, that isn’t an affirmation of the good that ANY men do. It’s an affirmation of God’s benevolence and mercy.

  17. Seda

    Jimmy Carter rocks! He’s the last good president we’ve had – present president included. (Obama has been a BIG disappointment so far – hope he can get on track at some point.) He is exactly right.

    Also, great point about Paul. He was writing letters specifically to specific churches addressing specific problems those churches had. So, sure there’s timeless wisdom and advice in them, but specific directives probably apply only to that time. And all you have to do is look at how badly male pastors have screwed up religion to know that, at worst, women won’t do worse.

  18. Deacon Blue

    I like Carter a lot, and he’s been amazing in his post-presidential years…probably more effective and active really on social and political issues than any other president in recent memory after leaving office.

    All the same, he’ll probably never get the kind of regard he deserves because his term was just beset with a bunch of crap that almost no president could have probably forestalled…and that he, with a more domestic set of strengths than foreign policy ones at the time, was possibly ill-equipped to handle (Iran and OPEC being the biggies that I’m really referring to here).

    As for Obama, the main thing there is that whether I agree with him or not, and there are several issues on which I think he hasn’t handled things well, I’m glad to see someone with a functioning brain in the Oval Office. I may not agree with his decisions many times, but at least I know he did more than throw a dart to determine his course of action…or ask his VP to tell him what to do…

  19. Big Man

    Jimmy Carter sound great now, but in office he was famous for being disappointing. Seems like the White House is a tough place for anybody to inhabit.

  20. Deacon Blue

    Any job that makes you age 2 or 3 times faster than normal is not a job I would ever want to hold.

  21. Deacon Blue

    I think it’s a holdover from an earlier race-related post in which Tit for Tat was on a different side of the fence on some issues compared to me and Big Man. So, I think he had some leftover thoughts and decided to bring in the race-related aspects of Christianity’s spread here, knowing that either Big Man or myself would probably have a response to it.

    At least that’s my working assumption.

    Also, the race thing serves as an effective way to undermine the noble aspects of missionary work, whether in the young church or the latter centuries, since if one rolls out enough abuses, it’s easier to make a case that nothing good comes of missionary work and evangelism at all.

  22. societyvs

    “Also, the race thing serves as an effective way to undermine the noble aspects of missionary work…” (Blue)

    I have to ask – and maybe this can be a post you write – whats so great about the way Christians in general do missionary work?

  23. Deacon Blue

    Nothing in particular is so “great” about it. I just don’t think that the way some people revile the entire practice is fair. They’ll focus on colonialism or other less savory events, and completely ignore the good stuff that’s also occured in Christian mission and evangelism work, from the early church to modern day.


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