Former 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.
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.