Jimmy Carter Quits Baptists (Again)
Former President Jimmy Carter quit the Southern Baptist Convention more than eight years ago because of its refusal to ordain women as pastors (rather odd, since the policy had been in place since the early seventeenth century origins of the Baptist faith based on the example of another follow with the initials J.C.). To make sure people noticed — since he had long stopped having anything to do with the SBC — he sent out 75,000 letters.
Over the weekend, Carter apparently reckoned people forgot about this (and, I must confess, I had) he up and quit again, this time via op-eds in The Guardian and The Age. (The latter was published a week ago but, owing to the confluence of the International Date Line and a lot of famous celebrities dying, nobody in the United States noticed until yesterday.)
But I digress. I bring this up not because I much care about Carter’s religion, having neither a dog in the fight nor interest sufficient to warrant exchanging a rodent’s hindquarters for his views on the subject, but rather because of the extraordinarily bizarre explanation given.
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.
Now, I can’t vouch for Plains, Georgia. But I’ve lived in plenty of communities where Southern Baptists predominated. In all of them, prostitution and rape were against the law. Girls went to school and the doctor. Women had jobs and influence. So far as I know, their genitals were intact.
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.
But these aren’t countries run by Southern Baptists. In rural Alabama and Mississippi, girls start and finish school at the same age as boys. Young women now outnumber young men in our colleges and universities. Arranged marriages have never been part of our culture. To the extent “their basic health needs are not met,” it’s because of poverty, not religious dogma.
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.
In Southern Baptist towns in the United States, women show a hell of a lot more than their arms and ankles. They’re required to go to school up to age 16 and are strongly encouraged to graduate high school and go on to college. Women work outside the home at tremendous rate. Rape is abhorred and the rapist is severely punished, often in extracurricular fashion.
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.
A goodly number of Western countries (although, granted, none with large Southern Baptist populations) have women prime ministers and presidents. In the United States, including the South, women governors, senators, and other high office holders were quite common long before Carter quit the Convention (the first time). We’ve had three female Secretaries of State, a woman National Security Advisor, a woman Attorney General, a woman Secretary of Homeland Security. We’ve had two women as vice presidential nominees and one who came close to getting a major party presidential nod. Sarah Palin, despite rather little experience or demonstrated expertise, seems to be the enthusiastic favorite for the Republican presidential nomination among Southern Baptists.
There are plenty of reasons to pick nits with the Southern Baptists. But the depredations of radical Islam are not among them.
Baptist photo by Flickr users djking under Creative Commons license.